When the sales experience falls into, rather than bridges, the gap

Depending on your definition of a customer, their experience starts well before they actually buy anything.

It might be what they’ve heard from others or what they’ve seen in the news. But if the brand comes knocking on their door that first impression is also a critical experience. Many get it right because it’s based on a real empathy with those they are trying to engage with.

However, it’s not always the case. Absent a clear customer experience strategy, what we think do as a business often looks very different when looked at from the customers’ perspectives.

 

For example, if any CEO is wondering why their Sales teams are not getting better results, maybe a quick look at how their initial engagement makes yet-to-be customers feel will give some big clues.

The quotes below are all real examples I’ve had in my inbox just this last week. There are others and I’m sure you’ll have your own ‘favourites’.

They are not trying to sell me something I don’t want. In fact, I could be interested. Just not with them. If I was ever asked for feedback about the Sales experience (a rare thing indeed), it might go along these lines:

  • Putting “Our 9am meeting” in the subject heading doesn’t spur me into replying out of panic.  Sorry to burst your bubble Sales folk, but changing it to “Our 10am meeting” in the follow-up really doesn’t make any difference either.
  • Saying “I’ve tried to reach you” is just lying – technology is quite good these days so I know if you’ve tried to get in touch as often as you claim. And when your colleagues use the same line every week, several times a week, it becomes very transparent.
  • Gasping “I can’t believe you’ve not signed up yet” and “I’d hate for you to miss out” is at best patronising and lacks any sincerity.
  • What’s more, should I be interested a reply to the email will go into a generic mailbox, not to the person who is (presumably) trying to create a relationship. It just shouts even louder about how you really don’t care if I get back in touch or not.

Does somebody seriously believe this type of approach is going to create an experience I want to repeat, share and pay a premium for? If these companies had any genuine interest in what I do and how they might help me achieve success, they’d look at their Sales activity as a meaningful experience not a bullying, volume-led, can’t-really-give-a-**** transaction.

I often come across businesses who fear the Sales team always over-promise because of the way they are rewarded. They then disappear off the face of the planet while everyone else tries to rally-round, clearing up the mess to deliver something close to an unrealistic promise.

On the flip-side, maybe the Sales team is frustrated that everyone else can’t keep up. Maybe they’re just doing what they’ve been told is best. But to create a first impression experience that is confrontational, misleading and deceitful creates no trust, no relationship. No commission.

They say the experience on the outside reflects the culture inside and they’re right. In the middle of a busy day, to be on the receiving end of these type of messages says heaps about what it must be like to work there. No clear strategy, just a numbers game where some very talented people will be wilting under the stress.

Intended or not, what they are saying to me is that it’s clear their focus is just on revenue, not on me as a potential customer. They don’t care if I buy or not, there are plenty more fishes in the sea. Friend and colleague Ian Golding wrote about a similar mindset very recently in this blog.

These companies are not some anonymous outfit in a far-off land that’s acquired an email list; often they are large, global businesses who should know what they are doing. These companies will make some money for sure but that short-term approach breeds complacency and stores up problems for down the line.

If they applied a dose of customer experience thinking they could, however, make a whole lot more money. If only they didn’t push their potential customers away before they’ve even got close.

 

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Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you enjoyed it and found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help people in Customer Experience roles do what they need to do. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional), a CX consultant and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation.

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions or are interested in training or consultancy support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718072

Why wouldn’t we make customer experiences easy?

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at an event about how to nurture a customer-centric culture. One of the key issues I referenced is that too often we have a gap between the sky-high corporate ambition (such as “to be the world’s best customer experience company”) and the lower-altitude commitment to making that a reality.

We see the consequences of that misalignment regularly. Just in the last couple of days alone I’ve experienced a tale of two cultures. Two very simple questions put to two organisations with two very different results.

I’m sharing them in the hope that one inspires and the other prompts us to ask ourselves, “Could that happen in our business?”.

Firstly, my bank. I had a general enquiry about one of their processes. A client bounced a cheque on me so the bank had automatically represented it. When it was returned the second time I was charged for the pleasure. So, I wanted to know what the bank’s policy was on how many times they would represent the cheque (and therefore how much I’d be charged too).

Their brand proposition proudly talks about wanting “to help businesses thrive…to help people realise their ambitions”. But they’re one of the world’s biggest players anyway and as I had a simple question my expectations of a quick response were high.

My problem though was not that I didn’t get an answer. More, it was ridiculously difficult to ask it in the first place.

My first attempt started after 10pm and the helpline was closed. Fair enough, though people managing their own businesses necessarily tend do the admin at either end of the day. I resorted to the FAQs on the website but after much trawling there was nothing relevant . The LiveChat was not live either.

So next morning I called back. The IVR route made me enter my branch sort code number. Then I needed to type in my account number followed by my date of birth and two digits from my security PIN. For some reason I then had my balance read out automatically. Twice. Topped off with a declaration about the difference between the balance and cleared funds.

I then had to navigate three further levels of IVR options before listening to the on-hold music for five minutes. Then someone picked up the call.

At that point they very helpful. The question was answered inside a minute. Added to the time I’d spent the night before though, the effort to get that point was disproportionate. I only hope they measure customer effort rather than, or aswell as, overall advocacy otherwise things won’t change.

Compare that with my second experience the same day. Next week I’m chairing sessions on passenger experience at the Rail Festival in Amsterdam. I was wondering how I get from Schiphol airport to the city centre by train. So, when a reminder about my flight popped up on my KLM app with a very clear ‘Contact Us’ button I sent them a quick question via Twitter (I could choose which messaging platform to use).

I sat back and carried on with my evening. Twelve minutes later, I had a response from the airline pointing me to where the rail ticket office is inside the airport. Sorted, with very little input from me.

But more than that, after only nine minutes, a delightful lady who runs a company helping law firms in Holland intervened and forwarded my request directly to the rail company, NS. They too then quickly confirmed what I needed to do.

Not only were the airline and rail company right on top of things, one of their own customers was willing to help another. I was very grateful but also intrigued about why she’d done that. She told me the motivation was that she is very proud of the Netherlands and wanted to help anyone who was visiting her country. Her intent was not so much to help the airline or rail company directly but subconsciously had confidence the issue would be resolved quickly.

And indeed, I’d had a swift response. But beyond her wider motive I thought about rail passengers in this country. If we happened to see a message from someone coming to the UK and they’d asked the airline about rail travel here, would we put our own reputation on the line by trying to help out? Would we be so confident that the rail operator would pick up the baton so quickly and easily? Hmmm.

 

They say the experience on the outside reflects the culture on the inside. If it feels like wading through treacle to get answers to simple questions then that business is more than likely carrying excess costs. If it’s easy for customers there’s less processing and support needed from the business. Unnecessary complexity also does nothing to support the wider brand promise; quite the opposite. If the reality of the experience is working against the expectation so much of the Marketing budget is wasted.

It’s easy to set sky-high ambitions but as CX professionals we need ensure there are no gaps between them and what it’s really like to be a customer. As KLM and NS have shown, if it can be easy, why wouldn’t it be? We already know that better experiences mean customers will come back more often, spend more and tell others to do the same. And if that then makes customers feel willing and able to help others customers too, that’s got to be a win for everyone, surely.

(Oh, if you’re interested, in the UK a bank will usually represent a cheque four times. Some though apparently will keep representing many more times, conveniently charging you each time. Be warned!).

———————

Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help people in Customer Experience roles do what they need to do. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation. I founded Empathyce after a long career in CX and Marketing roles and am now a consultant and trainer. 

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions or are interested in training or consultancy support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718072

 

 

Lessons in how to embed Customer Experience

At the recent CXPA networking event in London hosted by Pen CX, the world of the CX professional was thrown into the spotlight. I wanted to share thoughts from two of the presenters, who reminded us of some of the practical yet vitally important things we need to do to bring about the right change.

First, Ali Lawrie, Head of Customer Experience at Akzo Nobel, owners of the Dulux paint brand among others. Ali talked about the challenges of bringing the customer agenda to the fore in a B2B organisation which, understandably, has had a keen focus on technical product development and the sales supply chain.

A lesson she’d learned early on was to not underestimate the time it takes to win stakeholders round where they have their own priorities. Perseverance and resilience are essential qualities of the CX practitioner.

It’s time well-spent though and an investment that pays dividends. Getting the attention was also helped in no small part by demonstrating the reality of today’s experience using customer verbatims.

To see a metric that says customers are waiting three minutes for a call to be answered may not be a catalyst for instant transformation.  But hearing the direct impact on the customer, who might be an architect about to see a key client or a hospital property manager reaching out for some quick advice, expressed in their words with the emotion that goes with it, is infinitely more powerful.

Furthermore, it can show how a company’s brand and advertising is potentially being wasted because the experience does not deliver the promise of (a variant of) “We put customers first”. It’s a valuable and necessary conversation to have with the Marketing team.

Journey mapping provided many of the insights for Ali and those exercises also created six key stages of the experience, each now represented by an icon. Bringing to life the customer experience is at the heart of an effective CX programme and so the more visible it is the better. Sharing the icons and explaining the stages now references any activity to a specific part of the journey, has helped engage and involve colleagues and makes communications clearer.

Empathyce

Your CX momentum will take off, eventually

Creating a stronger business by using Customer Experience thinking will not happen without complete engagement right across the business. To engage not just those who are customer-facing but also those who are back-office or in management roles is a big stretch for many fledgling CX teams,.

So Ali’s advice is to spread the message and create movement from within through the extended use of CX champions – finding people from all parts of the business who take an interest, want to be part of the movement and see it as a good development opportunity. They will be the eyes and ears of CX inside and across the proverbial silos.

Mike Bellis of Pen CX and formerly of Pfizer, then reflected on how he changed his approach to win people round. “I started by highlighting issues that were affecting customers and trying to get them fixed, but this was seen as creating new problems within the organisation rather than trying to fix those which were perceived to be there already”.

As this approach wasn’t developing very much engagement, Mike quickly changed tack. The new approach was to understand internal stakeholders’ issues first and then show how a focus on Customer Experience could help overcome them. Before long he was everyone’s best friend. The momentum grew as colleagues from around the globe came knocking on his door for his methodologies and thinking.

 

Anyone who works as a CX professional will know how hard these things are to do. It’s therefore reassuring to hear that with persistence they can still make a difference.

As Mike Bellis summarised, “In principle, Customer Experience is simple. It doesn’t mean it’s easy though”.

Thanks to Ali and Mike, also to Neil Sharp of Pen CX for organising and hosting the event.

If you’ve any thoughts on what can be done at a practical level to help a business become more customer-centric, please share them!

———————

Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help people in Customer Experience roles do what they need to do. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation. I founded Empathyce after a long career in CX and Marketing roles and am now a consultant and trainer. I give CX professionals the skills, tools and confidence to be the ones to drive their Customer Experience efforts forward.

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions or are interested in training or consultancy support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718072

 

Does the PRM label restrict airports’ thinking?

Does the PRM acronym need an upgrade to ensure any disabled passenger has an empathetic experience?

passenger experience prm disability

 

(This post first appeared as a guest blog for International Airport Review in March 2017).

What’s in a name? A lot, it turns out.

There is, for example, no shortage of airports who create a brand based on the city they want to be associated with rather than where they are.

But stretching the thinking in the same way, this may be exactly what airport operators need to do when helping PRMs – passengers with reduced mobility.

Big improvements have already been made but as welcome as that is, it’s only addressing a small part of the wider issue. It risks ignoring those who need special assistance just as much and sometimes more; those who have issues that are less about the pure mechanics of getting from A to B and more about their understanding of the world with which they interact.

In business cultures that focus more on processing efficiencies than people, having PRM rules imposed means activity is often restricted to a tick-box exercise once the ramps are in place and more wheelchairs are available.

Yet the World Health Organisation says one in four people have difficulty in mentally processing information. 70 million people have autism. And, according to Disability Sport (UK), while around 11 million people in the UK have a disability, less than 8% of them require the use of a wheelchair.

To overcome the challenges faced, people with an intellectual or learning disability will usually travel with someone else; a family member or carer. Consequently, they are perceived to be relatively mobile and because their real disability is often invisible that sharp PRM focus on ‘mobility’ lands elsewhere.

People with an intellectual or learning disability will usually travel with someone else; a family member or carer…

Operators seeking to find more revenue from airlines and passengers know the importance of creating experiences that keep people coming back and telling others to do the same.

Upgrade the acronym

If an airport is serious about having better passenger experiences, then upgrading the acronym from PRM to PDN (People with Different Needs) or PID (People who Interact Differently) might just be the nudge that is needed.

During internal meetings, the strategy writers, operations coordinators and project managers will be in a better position to take a wider view of who their customers are. It will help them acknowledge that while this segment is given a three-letter acronym, that only describes their limitations in an airport; they remain a whole person with a real life.

Let’s be clear, there’s been some great work done to help PRMs. For people who find it difficult to navigate an airport’s infrastructure there is no doubt things are getting easier.

Collaborations between airlines and airports have reduced stress and anxiety. For those who need them, to see calming dogs, dementia friends and special-assistance wristbands is a huge help. To be on the receiving end of genuine staff empathy and patience when one of the family’s party is having an ‘episode’ or has no sense of how queues work is incredibly comforting.

We need to go further

Last August the CAA published a study on the progress that UK airports are making. It reported good levels of passenger satisfaction among those with a disability or reduced mobility. While some airports were applauded, the CAA pointed out there is still more to be done.

Too frequently we hear still about the poor treatment of passengers. Sometimes it’s unintentional. Often it’s because ‘that’s what the rules say’. Always though, there will be a personal impact for the traveller and therefore, ultimately, a commercial impact for the airport.

Only the airport themselves will know why it happens. Possibly, because PRM is treated as one of a raft of projects, rather than it be part of the culture. Employees are told how to make it happen rather than let it come from within and those signing off the business case are obsessing about the metrics, not the experience.

There are two issues at stake here

One is that making life easier for passengers, especially those with any kind of disability, is simply the right thing to do. And it’s consistent with many airport’s brand promises – genuine or not – to ‘put passengers at the heart of what they do’.

The second is a commercial issue. Whether they have a physical challenge or a learning disability, these passengers have wallets and their numbers are increasing.

Airports are under immense pressure to perform and today there are few stories written or marketing brochures printed that don’t refer in some way to the impact on passenger experience.  We also know that as in most markets, our expectations as consumers are outpacing the rate at which better experiences are delivered.  They have a voice and a choice and are not afraid to exercise either.

In Forrester’s survey of the S&P 500 with Watermark Consulting, they found that the stock market value of companies who had a customer experience culture grew during the 8 years between 2007 and 2014 by 107%. In contrast, those who didn’t grew by just 28% in that same time.

Meanwhile, AeroMexico calculated that a one-point change up or down in their Net Promoter Score had a $6m impact on the bottom line.

For airlines and airports better experiences mean more PRMs are feeling confident to fly. In the UK alone, the purple pound – the spending power of people with a disability – is estimated to be worth £212bn. The Papworth Trust carried out its own research that found two-thirds of disabled passengers would travel more often if it was easier to do so.

So, what does ‘easier’ mean?

I recently carried out a study of passengers’ unstructured feedback where they share their thoughts on social media and review sites about what it’s like going through an airport. At the top of the list of things that made them rate an airport highly was the environment; they want it to be quick, easy, friendly, clean and calm.

The absence of the same attributes was among the biggest reasons why they would advise others to use a different airport.

Those characteristics are the same for everyone; a family going on holiday, someone on business or a carer with a passenger who has a learning difficulty. So, if we extend the thinking to understand people with a disability, we’ll not only provide better experiences for them but everyone else too.

Autism spectrum disorders alone affect about 70 million people worldwide. Their symptoms include feeling bewildered at any social interaction, difficulties in communicating how they are feeling or why, and non-typical behaviours. To put them through a standardised process simply makes life harder.

Many of those with, or who care someone who has, a disability will be running on empty emotionally. They may not have had a good night’s sleep for years. They may have been in and out of hospital for countless operations.  They may have lost friends who had undiagnosed problems. They may spend their day helping others go to the toilet. Or they may spend their time apologising and feeling judged.

People with learning difficulties have and need very different experiences. They often feel isolated and will have little independence. A flight for a holiday may be as emotional for them as a wedding or a funeral to the rest of us so creating the right conditions is essential.

What they need is an easy experience with no complications. What they don’t need is for the airport to be the straw that breaks their back with inflexible policies, where common sense is not allowed to prevail and where rude employees or unhelpful environments make it worse.

The World Health Organisation says “Disability arises from the interaction between people with a health condition and their environment”.  Airports, with their partners and stakeholders, control the conditions. It is therefore within their gift to make the experience one that people want to repeat and to become advocates of.

Disability arises from the interaction between people with a health condition and their environment…

Their emotions and sensory stimuli are amplified. Take, as a simple example, hand-dryers in many airport toilet facilities. They howl into life at around 90dB, the same as a chain saw. And they are unpredictable, easily triggered simply by someone walking past.

They’re functional, probably simple to maintain and (the noisier ones) are less expensive, but at what cost?

They tick lots of operational boxes but I’ve experienced first-hand the devastating affect it can have on someone who finds such sudden outbursts like a near-death experience. From being happy to apoplectic in a second, my son (who has Fragile X) won’t hear words like “calm down”. He has an unbreakable cycle to go though. He’ll make even more noise but he will come out the other side. When he does he’ll be very apologetic and will want to know that people are there for him.

From an airport’s commercial perspective, that type of incident leads to less-than-ideal experience for other passengers, demands on employees, delayed flights and a family who won’t use that airport again.

It’s also worth noting that passengers are very aware of how their fellow travellers are being treated. Many of them will know someone with a disability and will be full of empathy. They too will make a choice next time and tell others.

Being truly empathetic to them can take us way beyond the traditional reach of the PRM definition. It creates a clear window into the life of someone with a learning disability and the role an airport plays in it. Here are just a few genuine comments to illustrate the point.

When we checked in and asked if we can sit near the front we were told “your child has autism so he can’t sit near the business area.

The airline asks if we need special assistance so why, for heaven’s sake, don’t they tell the airport to expect us?

She needs three of us to go with her. We do everything for her. Some airports and airlines are really helpful and keep us together but now we know the ones to avoid.

He lives in the moment. You can’t say: “You need to go and see Anne over there.  She’s wearing a blue jacket.” To him, the two sentences are about two completely different people. It’ll be confusing and just create more anxiety.

Their best experience is therefore one that simply works and has no hassle in it.  There doesn’t need to be any “Wow!” or “surprising and delighting”. It just needs to be competent at getting the basics right every time.

Outside the aviation sector there are many organisations responding to the specific needs of people with mental health challenges. Cineworld and ToysRUs for example have well-established autism-friendly experiences where sensory stimuli are kept to a minimum and expectations are well-managed.

It’s about people, not processes

At last year’s Passenger Terminal Conference in Cologne, Craig Leiner, Transportation Coordinator at Natick Community Services Department said about planning “When we get it right we make people’s lives better; when we get it wrong we make their lives harder”.

And Lord Blunkett, chair of Easyjet’s Special Assistance Advisory Group, added sagely: “Treating people with decency is a commercial win”.

Those leading and managing airport operations have enough on their plate without adding to the workload. We don’t need to create a whole new industry. Rather, we should build on the momentum we have with PRMs and ensure it embraces those who see and interact with the world in different ways.

There may be better acronyms than PID (People who Interact Differently) but the point is that changing from PRM to something like PID is a small mindset shift that will bring big lasting business advantages.

All types of passengers will benefit and it’ll be a prouder place to work. Not least, airports and their partners will see more passengers, lower costs and stronger revenue.

 

———————

Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help Customer Experience people do what they need to do. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation. I founded Empathyce after a long career in CX and Marketing roles and am now a consultant and trainer. I give CX professionals the skills, tools and confidence to be the ones to drive their Customer Experience efforts forward.

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions or are interested in training or consultancy support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718 072

The biggest risks to our Customer Experience efforts

Stress-testing customer experiences reveals flaws elsewhere

When people with different agendas build an experience, what could possibly go wrong…?

Ambition, commitment and perseverance. All three are critical to success but a weakness in any one of them is a huge risk to our Customer Experience plans. It will almost certainly ensure we don’t achieve what we set out to. While we focus on doing things in a new way it’s every bit as important to be aware of the warning signs that the old, destructive ways haven’t yet evaporated totally.

 

From what I’ve seen the most effective approaches to customer experience have three things in common. They have people who are passionate about their subject and a deep understanding of what it’s like being a customer. Critically though, they also enjoy a culture where the first two are allowed to thrive.

I’m often asked how organisations can cultivate those three ingredients; what should they do when they set out to become more customer-centric? There’s a long list to work through.  So assuming those things are in place, once the Customer Experience momentum is up and running what could possibly go wrong? Another long list, this time of spanners that are poised to throw themselves into the works – if we let them.

As a CEO recently told me: “If we don’t keep pedalling uphill, gravity takes over, all the effort is wasted and we’re back to square one before we know it”.

In this post I’ve highlighted just three of the biggest risks; different agendas, the day job and an obsession with metrics. They’re inextricably linked and will be of little surprise but they are chosen because, from my observations inside a wide variety of businesses, if the ambition, commitment and perseverance isn’t genuine enough these risks have a habit of becoming very real issues.

 

First up, people working to different agendas.

When employees have divergent priorities, whether they are just following their leader’s instructions or there is simply no common purpose, we get silos. It’s a convenient label that somehow explains, excuses and – worse – gives credibility to value-destroying ways of working.

You know you’ve got silos when you ask 10 people in a meeting room why the business exists or what the customer strategy is and you get 10 or more different answers. At best, there are variations on a theme, often educated guesses and sometimes no answer at all. Nor do they seem bothered, they’ve got their job to do (see below).

A large player in the financial services sector had an internal goal “to be the best”.  It was admirable and aspirational but no-one knew exactly what that meant. The highest savings rates and lowest mortgage rates in the market? Or widest net interest margin? Highest adoption rates of its app of any company in the world?

Despite the cleverly-worded posters on the wall about putting customers first, if there is not some common, meaningful customer purpose and metrics that everyone has a vested interest in there’s no way any cross-functional improvements will happen.

As a result of the fog, everyone carries on doing the things they do have clarity about. They know how their boss is going to decide whether they are meeting or exceeding expectations in the annual review and that’s their priority. No surprise therefore that we then see tensions, politics and stress with all the consequences that leads to.

Meanwhile, all the good customer-centric intent has rolled back down to the bottom of the hill.

 

The day-job default.

While part of the business is embracing Customer Experience with raw passion, the reality is that there is also a day-job to do be done. Sadly, it’ll stay that way until Customer Experience becomes just the way things are done rather than CX being seen as a function or division – and therefore seen an ‘optional extra’.

That might be because many of those who are asked to go and ‘do’ customer experience are having the responsibility added to their existing workload. Or at an organisational level, there’s just too much noise going on for anything new to make itself heard. Some don’t get it, others don’t want to get it and a few get it but resist a move out of their comfort zone.

It’s very easy to run a customer strategy session, a journey mapping workshop or an ethnographic study and then while the notes are being written up and we get it on the next Steering Group agenda, attention turns to the more ‘important and urgent’ things in our inbox.  There might be a seasonal spike in activity that needs all hands on deck.  “Project Invincible” has meeting coming up that needs a cast of thousands to attend or a new campaign is due to launch and that’s taking all available resource. Lots of reasons, but are they plausible or just a convenient excuse?

Because Customer Experience in its purest sense is about a cultural mindset, when there’s lots of firefighting to be done today it’s often seen as something discretionary, something that can wait until tomorrow.  But we know how often tomorrow comes.

 

An obsession with the score not the experience

I’ve always taken the line that if we get the experience right first, the numbers will look after themselves. Of course, whichever measurement method we choose we need to know what drives the numbers or drags them back but at least that means we’re looking at things from a customer’s perspective. Chasing the number is purely a vanity exercise.

A rallying cry to increase a customer score by 10 points might sound admirable, and it is. The issue is the way the business then sets about increasing the score. Without robust governance in place, those running the surveys will be coerced into changing the way the feedback is collected; they’re told to ask only those who’ve gone through the complete purchase cycle rather than include those who dropped out half-way. Customers will be offered incentives for giving higher scores or respondents will be given a false scale to flatter the real score.

Gaming the system is a real issue for many businesses and not all of them are aware that it goes on within their organisation. If you’re interested or concerned and want more food for thought, I wrote about a culture where the numbers are more important than people in this blog.

It’s one reason why we’re seeing more companies adopting the scores from independent review sites such as Trustpilot, Google and TripAdvisor as their key customer metric.customer experience perseverance

 

What to do about them?

There’s no rocket science here and there will be other issues that can derail our best Customer Experience efforts. Like gravity, we can only escape their pull with a bit of effort. They have patience and we have to assume they’ll wait a long time, hoping  for changes or a weakness to appear.

But if we share the principles of the Customer Strategy and show employees how the brand promises to treat its customers, if we have a governance process that informs and involves people from every corner of the business, if we ensure there is a visible commitment from the top that this is a priority for the business and if we have common customer metrics in everyone’s scorecard the risks have to be much, much lower. We’ll stay ahead of competitors and keep up with rising expectations too.

To say they are all obvious issues is, well, obvious. But if they are so well known, why do they keep getting in the way and what can we do about them? I’d love to know what you think.

 

Thank you for reading the blog on what can derail CX efforts, I hope you found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help Customer Experience people do what they need to do. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation. I founded Empathyce after a long career in CX and Marketing roles and am now a consultant and trainer. I give CX professionals the skills, tools and confidence to be the ones to drive their Customer Experience efforts forward.

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions or are interested in training or consultancy support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718 072

 

 

 

I’m frightened of Christmas

They’re not the words you want a 12-year old to howl in distress at this time of year. After all, ‘tis the season to be jolly and a magical time for kids. There’s an excited energy, we break up the routine, new sights and sounds are everywhere and there are surprises galore. What’s not to like?

Except that for some – children and adults alike – it’s a list of everything that makes them highly anxious, confused and fearful;  the absence of predictability and the presence of unfamiliar environments. Responding to sensory overload, those words “I’m frightened of Christmas” came from a distraught pupil at the special needs school my son attends this week.

The noises, the lights and the changes in routine had proved too much. Thankfully, their episode didn’t last long. After a short while in a quiet room they were soon back in class, joining in again as if nothing had happened. Such is their world.

But it is a reminder that people see the world, and interact with it, in very different ways.  We can learn a lot from them when we’re designing and improving customer experiences. While many organisations chase the “Wow!” moments,  there is a significant element of the population – nearly one in every four of us suffers a mental health problem – for whom less is more. shopping centre customer experiences

If we designed experiences or provided alternatives for those most affected it stretches the thinking so we get it right for everyone else too.  We all want pretty much the same things – we want things to work as promised, we need them to be easy and if they create the right memories we’ll do it again.

For someone with a disability, having that reliability and consistency is essential.  The consequences of not having them can be significant. It’s not just a nuisance or a niggle if a product or service doesn’t work; it can be outright distressing at best. To take a journey into a retail park or through an airport might take weeks or months of preparation for the person affected and the people around them. For them it’s like walking on ice and it doesn’t take much for everything to fracture and turn into disarray.

It can be simple things that tip the balance – a schedule change, hand-driers in the toilets that are deafening or shouty officials trying to rush everyone through. If we evoke fear and panic in someone, the implications for whether they’ll come back again are clear.

Especially for someone with autism where emotions can be amplified, having their expectations managed – and kept to – is key.  It doesn’t matter if it’s about the day’s timetable or going on a holiday, knowing what’s going to happen gives structure, boundaries and therefore security.

So if there’s a tipping point as the experience gets worse, beyond which customers simply won’t come back, that fulcrum is a lot closer for people with a disability. Experiences that don’t work properly for them feel like their world is in freefall. They feel they have no safety or security and it’s a scary, lonely place. Families and carers with them will do their best to manage the situation but if we assumed everyone would feel the same way, we’d create much more robust and consistent experiences for everyone.

We focus on designing experiences to be emotional ones wherever possible. And that is absolutely the right thing to do for reasons that are well-documented. But it’s critical to evoke the right emotions. Sometimes, the worst thing we can do for people is ‘surprise and delight’ them. What might work best to keep them coming back is simply an environment where things are calm, friendly and steady.

For example, I’ve researched what passengers say to each other about what makes the ‘best’ airports in the world. They are quiet, clean, friendly, quick and easy to navigate. Nothing complicated.  It’s why therapy dogs (and pigs) at airports work so well.  The principles can apply to any company in any sector so it’s why film screenings where the sound is turned down, the lights are up and there’s no advertising to wade through are so popular. And it’s why restaurants who give the option to send information before a booking about how the dining ‘experience’ works, show pictures of the food and provide safe ‘time-out’ spaces are creating personal and commercial benefits all round.

Evoking the right emotions in our experiences meaning we know which ones they are for different groups of customers, understanding why that is and how to make sure they are present every time. If we see things the way people with a physical or invisible disability do, it forces us to expand the thinking about our experiences in a different, more robust and better way. And that is something companies should embrace, not fear.

I hope your Christmas and the festive break is everything you want it to be.


Follow Jerry Angrave on Twitter @jerryangrave


Thank you for reading this blog about people with a disability and customer experiences. I hope you found it useful and thought-provoking.  I’m Jerry Angrave, a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP).  I’m a Jerry AngraveCX consultant with an extensive corporate background and I also specialise in professional development for those in, or moving to, customer experience roles.  Feel free to contact me with any questions – by email to [email protected] or by phone on +44 (0)7917 718072.  More details at the website www.empathyce.com.

Customer Journey Mapping, done. What next?

Here’s a familiar scenario in the customer journey mapping process.  Your workshops went well, everyone was engaged and the team is bursting with ideas. You added extra value by creating an environment where people from across all functions shared their behind-the-scenes stories. In doing so they learned a lot more about their own business, which wouldn’t have happened without you. All in all it’s a good result.Customer journey mapping process

With plenty of actions and food for thought there is now momentum. Expectations are high but the ‘journey of the journey’ has only just begun.  So as you unplug your laptop, switch off the light and leave the workshop your attention turns to what happens next.

 

In the first part of this series I explored ways to get buy-in from skeptical stakeholders for customer journey mapping workshops.  Last time I looked at how to make sure the workshop stays on track and is efficient use of time.  And for this last instalment I want to share thoughts on what to do after everyone’s gone back to their day job.

And that’s part of the challenge we now face.  We’ve got people interested and we’ve flushed out some great initiatives. However, the reality is that whatever gold we uncover and however energised we feel, we have to make it part of their day job before the wave of enthusiasm loses its energy.  We don’t want it lost in the noise of inboxes and meetings.

A large utility company I worked with recently told me they’d done some journey mapping a couple of years previously. They’d had it illustrated and they’d dig it out to compare then with now. Only they couldn’t find it. After much searching the mystery was eventually uncovered. In a sea of hot-desks at corporate HQ was a line of table-high storage units.  Beneath the glass top, but also barely visible under stationery boxes, photocopying paper and a guillotine was a cleverly illustrated customer journey. Had it been on show it would have been a powerful way to engage stakeholders. It told a compelling story and could have been a catalyst for badly needed change. But all the effort had, literally, been shelved.

So what can we do to make sure the path down which we’ve just started doesn’t wind on aimlessly?  Here is my take on just some of things we can do.

Share it

First things first, thank everyone for attending and write up the journey (s) you’ve looked at.  Beyond that, share it personally with other stakeholders who you need to be involved and demonstrate the momentum you now have, inviting them to be part of it.  Get everyone to share the outputs with their own teams and make it part of the governance process to have them reviewed and critiqued.

Sharing it widely increases the collective ownership. It will also then keep evolving into a more accurate picture of the real-world customer experience.

Show it off

Customer journey mapping isn’t, as some organisations seem to think, all about creating a pretty picture.  It’s important but not the end-game, far from it.  What it looks like will depend on what works for your own business and who your audiences are.  Some will be at a high-level and others more detailed but if you can turn the brown paper and sticky notes into something pleasing to the eye that’s great. Make it large and put it somewhere that will stay visible. Ask passers-by in the office to comment on it.

Unless you have easy access to a graphics team, my experience is that, at worst, it’s better to have a well-organised table made in PowerPoint, Keynote or Excel to tell the tale than to lose time trying making it look like a storyboard for the next Peter Jackson film.  The aim is still to help colleagues understand what they need to change and why.

Validate it

When you feel it’s in good shape, try it out on a few customers who match the persona from whose perspective it was done. Ask them if they recognise that as their journey and their issues as they pass through it. Play it back to them so they know you’ve understood and ask them what they don’t want to happen at each stage. Having that extra layer of customer validation gives enormous credibility, something that’s hugely beneficial when dealing with stakeholders, especially the one who love to pick holes in things.

Act on it

It’s the most obvious and important thing to do with a journey map but there’s simply no point in doing the maps if there’s no way of using them.  It must become a regular feature of the CX governance.  Or, as I’ve seen a few times, the creation of a journey map is the very stimulus needed for creating oversight in the first place.  The maps need nurturing and harvesting if they are to continue growing and yielding more insights.

Prioritising what to do next is then the issue. Hopefully you’ll have no shortage of possible actions but the mapping exercise will reveal what to do first. You will have identified what’s most important and how well it’s done and that then gives confidence about what to do in the short, medium and long term for customers, colleagues and stakeholders.

Picking off those things that are easy to implement and have a big impact will also demonstrate the proof of concept for when you are seeking greater investments in time, people and money.

Do more of it

It’s not a one-off exercise. The world keeps changing so the mapping will need repeating to stay relevant. That might be at least annually if not more frequently, especially as your changes get implemented and the experience evolves.  Even if nothing within the front-line business changes, customers’ expectations shift, competitors up the ante and an IT systems upgrade always seems to have an unintended consequence somewhere down the line.

It’s likely you identified several other personas in the workshop so map the same journey for them.  You’ll also have different journeys, some made by yet more personas, to map out too.  And time spent mapping what it’s like for a colleague and/or third-party to deliver the experience is as invaluable as it is necessary to complete the picture.

 

The customer journey mapping process is an essential competency of any business. It’s only part of the CX mix and without it the risks, wasted costs and commercial consequences can be significant.

But with the right engagement and preparation, with robust facilitation and with the resilience to build the momentum you’ve created, your influence will be greater, the connection between CX and the bottom-line will be clearer and the cogs of the business all fit together neatly to deliver the right experiences. A good result indeed.

 


Follow Jerry Angrave on Twitter @jerryangrave


Thank you for reading the blog about journey mapping, I hope you found it useful.  I’m Jerry Angrave, a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP).  I’m a Jerry AngraveCX consultant with an extensive corporate background and I also specialise in professional development for those in, or moving to, customer experience roles.  Feel free to contact me with any questions – by email to [email protected] or by phone on +44 (0)7917 718072.  More details at the website www.empathyce.com.

Keep customer journey mapping sessions on track and effective

Facilitating a customer journey mapping session for the first time can be daunting.  However, assuming you’ve invited the right people from across the business, and those who said they’d come do turn up, you should have an audience eager to get involved. Make customer journey mapping effective

Even so, your collaborations have to work hard and show that the time is well spent.  In your workshops some people will feel they can’t be seen not tapping away at a keyboard.  Others will have to duck-out half way through to take a call and there will always be at least one who is there because they’ve been told to but have no idea why.

In the opening segment of this three-part series I looked at ways to get buy-in from sceptical stakeholders.  The next and final instalment will suggest what to do with the ‘map’ once it’s been created.

This second piece therefore is about keeping your journey mapping workshop on track.  It’s easy to get derailed so asking the right questions, documenting the answers and making it an enjoyable experience for those taking part are central tenets of any journey mapping session. Here though, are five more suggestions for making sure your time with others is going to generate compelling insights and position you as the go-to person for customer experience.

Firstly, we need to be really clear about exactly who is doing what and why.

#1 Personas

To improve an existing experience or design a new one we must have genuine empathy with those on the receiving end of what we do. Traditional segmentation approaches that give us Millennials, socio-economic groups or B2B vs B2C are helpful but only to a degree.  Generational Marketing for example, assumes that everyone born around the same time will follow similar behaviours.

For an organisation wedded to metrics, processes and projects, commoditising customers in that way may feel more comfortable.  Yet it fails to highlight that we’re dealing with real people who interact with us because of real needs and wants. They have different motivations, hopes and expectations. And there are real, personal consequences if we get it right or not.

By bringing customers to life as a person not a segment, we can show the rest of the business what’s most important to them and why in a more meaningful and engaging way. Give the persona a name, draw a picture of them or a day in their life. Take time to discuss what they think, say and do.

We’re talking here about customers but the mapping exercise can – and should – be done equally for employees delivering the experience, stakeholders and partners to empathise with them too.

 

#2 Prioritise

Chances are you’ll identify  a number of personas, all of whom have the potential to go on many different journeys with you. We can’t do justice to journey mapping by trying to do everything at the same time so we need a focus and a clear scope.  Multiply the number of personas by the products or services they’re buying, the number of reasons they are interacting and then by the channel permutations and the number of possible journeys can quickly be measured in the hundreds if not thousands.  Which one to map?

Some will jump out more than others especially where there are burning platforms.  Others will emerge as you go along;  a touchpoint can be drilled into in more detail to become a mapable journey in its own right.  But as far as possible, choose one persona doing one thing and stick to it; have a crystal-clear scope for this journey and plan to deal with the others later.

The journey maps will then highlight the things are most important to your customers. They will show how well you do those things – if indeed they are measured – so you know how well (or not) you do the most important stuff or where you’re wasting effort.

You’ll end up with a long list of ideas but they can be organised so you focus on protecting the important things that are done well, pounce on the significant experiences that are done badly and stop doing the costly work that customers don’t value.

 

#3 Stay in character031

It’s one of the most essential elements of journey mapping yet it’s also the easiest to fall foul of. Short of asking customers directly (more of that in a moment) the only way to truly see things from their perspective is to act and think like them.  The personas you’ve created will guide you.  Take on the persona and pretend, role-play their interactions.

If you’re facilitating the session watch out for comments like “Yeah, but the reason why we have to do it like that is because ….” and “The customer doesn’t appreciate that what we have to do is…”.

We are not creating a process map.  When the team is in full flight it’s very easy to revert to the day-job. Just for the avoidance of any doubt, I repeat.  We are not creating a process map.  Quite the opposite:  we need to know what it is like to be on the receiving end of our processes.

An effective discipline here is to use “I… “ statements.  In other words, use their language not yours.  When the sticky notes are flying onto the brown paper, use phrases like “I’m choosing” or “I’m paying” rather than “Browse website” and “Purchase” respectively.

 

#4 Customer in the room…eventually

A valuable by-product of journey mapping is that cross-functional teams get to know their own business better.  By all means share the ins- and outs of what you do, it’s a great – and from what I see an all-too-often unique – opportunity to do so.

But while those conversations nurture internal understanding, they are not always ones you’d feel happy having in front of customers.  For them to hear that their premium-priced service is actually quite fragile and held together with string and tape isn’t great. Or, that one part of the business really doesn’t know what the next bit does.

It’s the main reason I advocate that customers only get the opportunity – and they must at some point – to validate and iterate the journey once you’ve agreed the starting point internally.

On the flip-side, where you are mapping “What could the future look like?” scenarios, having customers’ input and creativity coupled with successful design-thinking and ethnography is as essential as it is priceless.

 

#5 Start/Finish points

Unless you magically happen to burst into someone’s life the instant they think they might need you and then disappear forever just as quickly when you’ve got their money, the traditional end-to-end thinking can be flawed.

From a customer’s perspective, it won’t start with the initial enquiry.  More likely, it will begin with an event in the customer’s life that triggers the need or desire for the first or next interaction.  It’s best to start where there is no current or active relationship with the brand as it will then become clear how what you do fits in with their life, not the other way around.

The final end point may equally be a shade of grey but one thing every journey should have is touchpoint under the heading of “I’m sharing my experience”. It may be during or at the end of the experience but if nothing else, it forces the team to think about where a customer might tell the story of their experience, however unstructured, usually once it’s over.  If that’s not plugged into the current feedback system and usual reactive surveys, there’s one action to add to the list already.  I wrote about that specific issue in a separate blog here.

 

So journey mapping is an incredibly insightful tool but it must be done effectively and with discipline if it’s to yield the results that will drive a business forward.

The final instalment in this three-part series about customer journey mapping will look at what should happen next.  In the meantime, if you’ve your own suggestions on how to ensure journey mapping is working hard for you I’d love you to share them.


Follow Jerry Angrave on Twitter @jerryangrave


Thank you.  I’m Jerry Angrave, a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP).  I’m a Jerry AngraveCX consultant with an extensive corporate background and also specialise in professional development for those in customer experience roles.  Feel free to contact me with any questions – by email to [email protected] or by phone on +44 (0)7917 718072.  More details at the website www.empathyce.com.

Customer Journey Mapping? Why not?

Customer journey mapping.  It’s probably the easiest starting point for anyone looking to improve the right customer experiences.

Why do customer journey mapping

That said, I still encounter business leaders who see customer journey mapping as a waste of time.  They don’t see it as a means to a very commercial end;  to them it’s about employees pretending to be customers and having fun with post-it notes.  At best, they won’t release any of their people from doing their day-job to go on a ‘jolly’.  At worst, the journeys get mapped to tick a box, after which they simply gather dust.

So, this is the first in a short series of three posts on why journey mapping is important, how to make it effective and what to do with it.

First, let’s deal with the “Why?”. Customer experience professionals need the tenacity and resilience to win everyone over, whether it’s buy-in to the very concept of CX or asking for cross-functional representation in workshops.  It’s not easy when those leaders want instant gratification for any activity.

Showcasing how journey mapping leads to better experiences, which in turn improve sales, revenue and retention is acutely important.  But that alone sometimes isn’t enough to shake cynics out of the complacency tree.  They’ll say the business is making money, they have satisfied customers and employees know what they’re doing;  why change, why spend time doing what we call “journey mapping”?

One approach to get them to sit up and take notice is looking at the flipside;  ask “Why not?”.  What if we don’t do journey mapping, will we miss out on anything?  What happens if we don’t try and understand what it’s really like today and should be like tomorrow to be a customer?  Well, here are just a few things that will happen…

No meaningful purpose

The mission statement and vision, the guiding principles, should be about customers not the organisation.  Absent a real understanding of customers’ needs, hopes and expectations a business can only operate in a vacuum.  There’s no consensus around what should be done so everyone will carry on doing their own thing, preserving the corrosive effect of silos.

We waste money on the brand

Advertising expenditure in the UK this year is expected to be over £20bn.  Yet such investments will be wasted if the promises made by the brand are not backed up by the reality of the experience.  After all, the brand is what people tell each other it is, based on what they remember – not what the strapline says.  And we all know what impact the presence of broken promises has on a relationship.

customer journey mapping

That’s the customer experience team. They do what they call customer ‘journeys’…

We measure the wrong thing

It’s easy to measure the most obvious things but is that simply a process audit of what the business thinks should happen? Journey mapping will highlight the things customers value the most; we need to know how well do we do what’s most important.  It also avoids employees feeling pressured to chase a number rather than feel empowered to give the right experience.

We waste effort

Money, time and resource are all finite but one of the great things about journey mapping is that it is very helpful at prioritising what to do next.  With a deep empathetic view of customers it becomes a lot easier to challenge personal agendas, inwardly-focused projects or new products that fit in the “technology for technology sake” basket.  It’s easy to work out what things are really important to customers but we’re rubbish at doing, as well as preserving the things we’re good at.

Complacency eats away

The gap between customer expectations and reality is one of the key drivers of a sustainable business.  A company may feel secure because there’s no obvious burning platform.  As consumers, we have exposure to many companies across a variety of sectors and so our expectations of better experiences are rising as quickly as our tolerance of poor ones are falling.

We miss a big trick

An essential component of effective journey mapping is to see it from the employees’ perspectives, otherwise we have no idea how easy or difficult it is for our people to deliver the right experiences.  They know about fragile processes, about broken hand-offs, about a lack of risk-free empowerment and inflexible policies.  Their ability to deliver the experience is a link in the chain that can’t be kinked or broken.

We hand over an advantage to competitors

Chances are, your competitors are mapping their customer journeys too, meaning they will be in a better position to take customers away from you. They are de-risking the sustainability of their business by understanding what their – and your – customers will respond to positivelyyour-brand-1

 

CJM does many things, not least it informs the customer strategy, it gets employees behind a common purpose and it focuses effort in the right place. More than that though, it gives a business confidence and context for what it does, organising the thinking that will start to change things for the better.

It’s an incredibly powerful tool but it must also be disciplined and structured.  Therefore next in the series I’ll look at the ‘rules’ for how we can map journeys effectively and finally we’ll look at what to do next once the journey is mapped.

Thanks for reading the post, I’d love to hear what you think about journey mapping.

Jerry


Jerry Angrave is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP), a CX consultant with an extensive corporate background ‘doing the doing’ and specialises in professional development for those in customer experience roles.  Feel free to contact him with any questions – by email to [email protected] or by phone on +44 (0)7917 718072. More details at the website www.empathyce.com.

 

Disabilities teach us how to improve everyone’s experiences

It can be hard enough doing business with a company sometimes, let alone if we have some kind of physical or mental disability.  However, people who interact with the world in different ways can teach organisations a lot about creating the right customer experiences for them, other customers and – ultimately therefore – the balance sheet.

Having travelled a lot recently and spoken at aviation conferences I’m look at it here from an airport’s perspective.  The principles though apply to any sector.

The World Health Organisation says: “Disability arises from the interaction between people with a health condition and their environment.”  Airports control the environment passengers are in and therefore it’s within their gift to minimise the impact of being disabled.

After all, whether we’re a hard-working employee always on the go, someone of restricted mobility or a carer with an adult who has a learning difficulty,  we all want pretty much the same thing.  Last year I researched what passengers said to each other about going through an airport.  The 800 comments I reviewed on Skytrax showed they simply wanted it to be quick, easy, calm, clean and friendly.  Any ‘Wow!’ factors can wait until the basics are in place and happening consistently.

Airports are under immense pressure to perform efficiently and focusing on customer experiences is key to the game plan.  However, we also know that rising consumer expectations are outpacing the rate at which better experiences are being delivered.

By understanding what it’s really like to travel with a disability, not only does it make the experience better for the people who need it most but it also stretches the thinking to improve things for all passengers.  And, if doing the right thing needed justifying, it’s great for an airport’s revenue and cost lines too.

It is, of course, about doing what’s right, but there is a real-world commercial context that this sits in.  Inevitably there will be some who remain to be convinced, worried about the impact on their processes, operational efficiencies, costs, metrics and compliance scorecards.

Sceptical stakeholders can draw comfort from a number of studies that show how better customer experiences lead to better performance.  For example, Temkin Group’s study of 10,000 consumers showed that 81% of advocates are very likely to buy again; only 16% of unhappy customers share the same intent.   At AeroMexico, a one-point change either way in their Net Promoter Score had a $6m impact on the bottom line.  And in the UK, Papworth Trust says two-thirds of disabled travellers would travel by rail more often if it were easier.

Designing experiences and employee training for the right customer outcomes can take many forms.  One tool that’s often used is customer journey mapping.  The key is not to simply document processes but to create a springboard from which commercially successful and empathetic experiences can be made and measured.  We should think about passengers as being real people rather than fitting the generic segmentation stereotypes of “business travellers”, “families” or even “PRM”s.  The maps will then help share internally what it’s really like to be a passenger and what it should be like, through keen observations and a rich understanding of travellers’ motivations, expectations, fears and hopes at each stage of the journey.

 

I’ve a 13-year-old son with Fragile X, a learning disability on the autistic spectrum.  We’ve had awful and wonderful experiences at airports.  At Birmingham International for example, we found employees at the gate who took everything in their stride.  They were not perplexed at all by Charlie’s flapping, his strange vocal sounds or his lack of social understanding about how a queue works.

There are other airports we will avoid purely because of the noise from hand-dryers in the toilets.  To Charlie, they burst into life as a monstrous 90dB howl.  It scares him and makes him highly anxious in the days leading up to the flight and while we’re at the airport.  So those airports are now off the list of choices, for us at least.

The way he deals with sudden noise is to make his own commotion.  It will trigger a meltdown that will see him go through a cycle of angst, anger and distress.  It’s a sequence that we can rarely break into, hence why it’s to be avoided if at all possible.  He won’t process instructions to “calm down” but he will eventually come out the other side very upset and very apologetic and will want to know people are there for him when he does.

It can be an uneasy time for everyone. At Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport however, if a passenger has an episode in the security lanes the queue management tapes are quietly moved to redirect other passengers away. They leave nature to take its course rather than make things worse by ushering the person out of the way in the hope that no-one noticed.

Physical disabilities are easier to recognise, yet this can still trigger inappropriate responses from airport staff.  US daytime-TV host Meredith Vieira, whose husband has multiple sclerosis, talks about the times when he uses a wheelchair at an airport rather than a cane.  Suddenly people talk to her, not him.  “It’s like he becomes invisible,” she says.calming-dog

Recognising the potential for unpredictable behaviour is not easy.  It’s great therefore to see initiatives such as a downloadable butterfly image for carers’ smartphones at Liverpool airport and wristbands at Manchester.  They send subtle signals to trained employees that there may be untypical behaviour ahead.

Likewise, the unobtrusive lapel badges at Los Angeles and the dementia champions walking the floor at London Gatwick.  Calming therapy dogs are another great example where everyone, not just those with a disability, benefits.

Emotionally and physically, many will be running on empty.  They may not remember when they last had a good night’s sleep.  They may have been in and out of hospital for countless operations.  They may have lost loved ones who had undiagnosed conditions.  They may spend their days helping others go to the toilet or prevent them from self-harming.  They may see the world in very different ways to us.  They may feel they are always being judged and continually need to apologise.

Their best experiences are therefore ones that simply work and have no friction in them.

Such circumstances put everyday niggles and frustrations at the airport into perspective.  Inflexible policies that prevent common sense prevailing, unhelpful attitudes and rushed environments that are not respectful make it one more challenge to endure.

Get it right and they become valuable advocates.  Get it wrong and they are unlikely to have the time or inclination to let you know.  They might tell their friends if they have the energy but they will almost certainly choose an alternative airport next time or simply stay at home.

 

Speaking at the Passenger Terminal Conference in Cologne earlier this year, Craig Leiner, transportation co-ordinator with Natick Community Services Department, said: “When we get it right we make people’s lives better; when we get it wrong we make their lives harder.”  The message is clear: don’t be the straw that breaks their back.

The stakes are high for all concerned.  But if airports and the partners they outsource their experiences to have a deeper understanding of people with a disability, everyone profits.  Even Ryanair, once thought of as being very ‘anti customers’, acknowledges that its Always Getting Better programme is turning better experiences into higher revenue, load factors and forward bookings.

Creating the right environment where interactions are easy and calm suits pretty much everyone.  People with a disability of some kind help expand our thinking about what those experiences should be like.  In the UK, a fifth of the population has a disability and estimates put their spending power at over £200bn.    It’s therefore an opportunity not an obligation.

Lord Blunkett, chair of easyJet’s Special Assistance Advisory Group, summed it up neatly in Cologne when he said: “Not only is it the right thing to do, but treating people with decency is a commercial win for everyone”.

It really is.

 

 

Who hangs around longer: complacent employees or valuable customers?

In the world we live in it seems to be very easy to over-complicate things; to make a cottage industry out of lots of stuff.  Inside a large corporate recently I saw a project managed by several highly-paid people whose goal was to document all the organisation’s other projects.

So it’s not surprising that when people talk about customer experience there are some who roll their eyes and want to get back to their day-job.  It’s seen as interfering with running their bit of the business. Or it’s too expensive and “we’ve got more important things to worry about”.  They’re the ones who will say, “It’s ok, we’re making money, we’ve got customers, why do anything differently?”…042

Ian Golding wrote an emotional blog last month about why Ritz Carlton has the reputation and repeat business it does.  Yes, Ritz Carlton is at the premium end of hotel accommodation but the core of the experiences they offer is not expensive; it’s a mind-set and an attitude that’s as easily and as effectively adopted by a hotel chain as a telecoms business, utility or a local café.

The point is that not only does it cost very little, the flip-side is that leaving such basics untendered can cost huge amounts in revenue, profit and customer loyalty. Putting a poster on the wall, a powerpoint slide or a statement on the website proclaiming that “We put customers at the heart of everything we do” is easy.  It’s not easy to do but it’s not impossible either.

At the risk of being accused of being a grumpy old man take, for example, common courtesies.  A “Thank you” here and a “Please” there.  Are they a consistent part of our customer experiences? They often won’t feature in any journey mapping exercise because they are so basic.  Of course that happens all the time, doesn’t it?

I know it’s not the case for two very well-known food retailers.  One sets out its stall to “give excellent customer service with an emotional benefit that feels good and feels right”.  The other has “a renewed focus on the consumer …to achieve success”.  The reality though is somewhat different.

I live in an urban area where I’m lucky to have had these two chains within walking distance for many years.  Despite the high turnover of staff in that time, by and large the people have always been polite.  In both stores though, things have changed and increasingly the people there are rude and contemptuous.  They are not offensive, but there is the impression of complete disinterest.

Where once we would get “That’s £5.10 please” followed by “Thank you” as they hand me my change, I now hand over my goods and get an impatient look back.  Apparently, I’m magically supposed to know exactly how much I owe them without them telling me or moving the lottery cards stand out of the way so I can see the display on the till.  Having had to ask what I owe, the change is unceremoniously dumped into my hand with no comment, let alone it being counted out with a “Thank-you”.

Instead, I find myself saying thank-you to them, then cursing myself as I leave, knowing it should be them thanking me for paying their wages.

If it happened once I could dismiss it as someone having a bad day.  We all do and there are more important things in life to worry about.  However, to happen each time creates a real feeling of being treated with a lack of respect.

Contempt is a corrosive thing in any relationship.  If either side senses it exists, the going of separate ways becomes an inevitability.

As it happens, one of the big-four opened one of its local supermarket stores recently. It wasn’t needed and the arrival of one of the major players met lots of opposition.reputation

However, the local incumbents didn’t deserve the loyalty they thought they were entitled to and as a result I and many others choose the more corporate option.  Local people work in there too and they are every bit as polite and as professional as you want them to be. They say hello, smile and help make things quick and easy. Why would I choose an unpleasant experience over a friendly one?

So when it comes to designing customer experiences there are a couple of lessons here.  One, are we overlooking the things that are really important?  It doesn’t have to be complicated.

The second is that when a sceptical Operations, Sales or Finance Director asks how much it will cost to have better customer experiences there are a hundred such stories that show the cost of keeping customers can be pretty much zero yet the real cost of not having those basics in place is huge.

Unfortunately for the bottom line, complacent employees will out-last customers who would be loyal but who also have a choice. The not-so secret to the right customer experience is attitude – especially at the organisational level.

The role and challenges of the Customer Experience Professional

The varied and vital role played by customer experience professionals was put under the spotlight last week at the CXPA’s European Insight Exchange in London.

Attended by CX practitioners from Spain, Finland, France, Ireland and Zimbabwe as well as the UK the event showed that wherever we are, the expectations of what customer experience people can do for a business are rising just as quickly as consumers’ own expectations about what the business can do for them.

Mark Horsley, CEO of Northern Gas Network spoke with an understated passion about creating the right environment for his people;  allowing them to be heard, to flourish and to contribute in a way that gives customers better experiences.  Mark is CEO of an organisation whose customers have little choice and so could be forgiven for being more transactional than relationship-focused. Nothing could be further from the truth and it was refreshing to hear customer experience’s positive double-whammy being reinforced;  it’s not just about doing the right thing but a stronger, more certain business future will follow too.

It’s always easier said than done and even the many awards Northern Gas Network has collected have not come about overnight.  In that context, the CXPA event helped share challenges, solutions and lessons learned, providing valuable insights and much food for thought.

I was privileged to lead one of the sessions on the role of the Customer Experience Professional.  It’s a subject hounded by many questions.  How, for example, does the role change depending on how senior the person is or how mature their company’s CX is?  Is it about helping everyone to “get it” or about galvanising sceptical stakeholders behind a common goal? Is it about stopping the business making mistakes by bringing to life the reality of what it’s like to be a customer?  Or all of the above and more?

 

In searching for answers there were common, related themes including: driving a customer agenda can be a lonely place, it’s difficult to spur people into action when there’s no burning platform and the size of the task can be overwhelming.   The Insight Exchange provided some clues as to how might we overcome these challenges.

A lonely voice

It’s often the case that organisations who need a CX focus the most are the least open to change. Where the hard focus is purely on costs, revenue and operational metrics it takes a brave person to bring up the subject of emotions and the laws of unintended consequences.  Yet where that happens, the biggest positive changes can occur too.

The advice is to find peers who are of the same mind, who understand that by stopping the things that customers don’t value or by fixing the causes of niggles and complaints there are quick wins to be had.  I’ve seen it work at some of the largest companies in their sectors globally;  it’s not a Hollywood script but one person starts with passion, belief and a real customer understanding and before long people right across the business are sitting up and taking notice.  In the the early days it may take the form of chats in the coffee queue or creating a “Customer Experience Steering Group” but by being the catalyst, creating a movement from within and armed with proof of concept, the conversations at more senior level becomes much easier.

No burning platform

The ‘do nothing different’ option is very tempting in an organisation that is – possibly unintentionally – myopic and complacent.  They say: “We’re making money, we have satisfied customers and our employees know how their performance is measured.  Why change?”.

As a customer experience professional we can help them see things differently.  We can show them how expectations are changing and rising exponentially, driven by companies they interact with and read about in other sectors.  We can show them the true sentiment in the customer satisfaction surveys and how they are not measuring the things that customers say are now most important.  We can get under the skin of the employee survey to find out from those who know the processes best about how work-arounds and hand-offs are broken and are running inefficiently.

There may not be an obvious platform burning brightly but what company with an ambition for long-term survival would not want to extinguish and smouldering embers underground before it’s too late.

It’s overwhelming

The nature of customer experience means that as a way of thinking it can help pretty much every part of the business. Whether informing strategic decisions, helping to mitigate risks or defining brand promises, CX has a role to play and with it, a raft of desirable actions.

In theory at least, we have the ability to understand whatever we need to about our customers.  We can have as much data as we can process.  Some actions will require a quick conversation to tweek a process and some, like changing the culture, will be longer-term.  All though are necessary and therefore it can be a daunting prospect.

There were two suggestions here. Firstly, don’t try to do everything.  As with the burning platform, keep one eye on the bigger picture but use short-term quick wins to gain momentum and start changing things, little by little.  Not everything needs weeks and months courting stakeholders to prepare a business case.  The more people can see the positive impact the more doors will be easier to open.  The breadth of advocates will grow, more resources will become available and the right changes will happen.  Eventually it’ll just become the way the organisation does business.

The second, linked, point is the prioritisation process.  By understanding what touchpoints in a customer’s journey are most important and how well they are delivered, the focus straightaway is ensuring the areas that matter most are done consistently well or on stopping wasted effort where things are not valued.

 

The Insight Exchange was just that; swapping thoughts, ideas, lessons learned the hard way.  Many left inspired, many were reassured that they are already on the right lines and many headed back to the office with new ideas about tackling their biggest challenges.

What is clear though is that the true role of a CX professional goes way beyond most job description templates.  In an ideal world, customer experience people would do themselves out of a job when the business becomes self-regulating.  The good news, or bad news depending on how you look at it, is that on the whole we’ve a long way to go.  As co-Chairman Ian Golding put it, the day had the look of a counselling session given how significant the challenges and opportunities, in equal measure, are.

It’s what makes it such a compelling and rewarding profession.

 


 

Thanks for reading the post, I’d be really interested to hear what you think.  I’m Jerry Angrave, specialising in customer experience consultancy and professional development.  I’m a Certified Customer Experience Professional and an authorised trainer for the CCXP exam.   Do get in touch if you’ve any questions – I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718072, on email at [email protected] or on Twitter @JerryAngrave.

 

 

John Lewis, npower and Ford – in very different places with customer experience

 

Depending on the way you look at it, complacency is either the arch-enemy of customer experience or the reason it exists.  I’ve seen many a sceptical director shrug and say “Why bother? We’re making money so we must be doing it right”.

Yet while the heart of customer experience might be more a way of thinking than functional, the warning signs of where it’s going wrong can be very obvious and very tangible.

Take John Lewis.  Over the years it’s been one of our most celebrated brands, synonymous with straightforward, easy and helpful customer experiences.  And the partnership has seen the benefits in its commercial performance as a result.

So here’s a question:  out of 10, where 0 is rubbish and 10 is brilliant, what would you say JohnLewis.com scores on Trustpilot at the moment?  I know there have been a few issues of late but I’d have said 7s and 8s at worst.  Time to think again.

Based on over 2,000 customer reviews the average score as of this week is …..  1.4 out of 10.

 

john lewis 1.4

 

How and why did that happen?  Only those inside John Lewis know the answers but one suggestion is the outsourcing of its customer experiences.  Handing over your brand to a third party is no excuse, only a reason.  Outsourcing may promise hand-offs that are invisible to customers and a lower per-transaction cost.  However, without the controls to ensure consistency of the intended experiences the number of unnecessary contacts increase, the costs go up and customers’ loyalty goes down.  Years of goodwill being unravelled for all to see.

As with any customer measurement system, there are caveats and foibles.  But I wonder how many organisations would act differently if public metrics such as the Trustpilot score or Tripadvisor rating were more visible internally and part of the voice-of-the-customer mix.

Ironically, over in the energy sector, npower maybe further along the organisational self-awareness curve.  It’s often in the news for the wrong reasons;  scrapping its dividend payment, being fined £26m by Ofgem for failing to treat customers fairly and being told if things don’t improve they will be barred from selling their services.   And on the back of its results this week came the announcement that there will be a significant human cost with 20% of its workforce to be laid off.

With that news though came a plan, a two-year recovery programme.  So for npower, at least the reasons for its difficulties are known and it is trying to do something about them.  Lower wholesale energy prices, government obligations and a quicker than expected shift to renewables are to blame in part.  However, it is the self-inflicted broken processes and billing infrastructure that are driving many customers away.

I’m a customer of npower and of John Lewis.  For the people who work there and for my own sanity I really want them to come right.  Npower has plans but the signs are that things have a way to go.  For example, I recently received three identical envelopes in the same post.  Inside, three identical annual statements with identical supporting information notes – tripling the cost at a stroke and leaving me playing the spot-the difference, wondering if I’ve missed something subtle but vitally important.

npower statement

 

Do they know that’s happening? If not, why not?  But if they do know, wouldn’t a quick letter or email to explain that I don’t have to worry about missing something help?  It’s about knowing what the experience is like today and how it feels compared with what it should be like and having the appetite to do something about it.  Making things worse, the main call-to-action appears to be to switch suppliers so exactly what the statements mean and what I’m supposed to do next will have to be the subject of a call to their helplines…  I hope the recovery plan will be using lower customer effort as a measurement of success.

In contrast, the organisational self-awareness that Ryanair had prompted it to launch the ‘Always Getting Better’ programme.  The about-turn in being customer focused is bearing fruit in its forward bookings, load factors and customer feedback.   Meantime, motoring giant Ford meantime is also setting about the way it does things.ford wheel logo

Speaking earlier this year, Ford’s President and CEO Mark Fields talked openly about changing the culture to be more empathetic to its customers.  The mindset was no longer one of being a manufacturer or even a technology company but an innovative, user-experience company.   Ford employees are encouraged to challenge the status quo, to question tradition and to not take anything for granted.  They won’t get penalised in their performance reviews for trying something new;  the view is that succeed or fail, you learn.  And on digitalisation and data, Ford aims to identify the right experiences first then seeks the technology to deliver it.  Not, trip over itself to install latest IT systems just because it’s the latest IT system.

 

Very familiar brand names with varying degrees of organisational self-awareness.  It’s what shapes their customer experiences and as a direct consequence they will see very different results.

 


Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it interesting and thought-provoking.  I’d love to hear what you think about the subject so please feel free to add your comments below.

I’m Jerry Angrave, founder of Empathyce and an ex-corporate customer experience practitioner.  I’m now a  CX consultant and an official trainer for the CXPA’s professional qualification to be a CCXP. If you’ve any questions about improving customer experiences or CX professional development do please get in touch.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or on email I’m [email protected]

To subscribe for future posts please send an email to [email protected]

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Customer experience culture: Ford’s perspective

A customer-centric culture doesn’t happen simply because it’s on a presentation slide as a strategic pillar.  It’s a topic that risks being swamped by platitudes and theory so I was curious to hear Mark Fields, President and CEO of Ford Motor Company, talk about what the transformation to a customer experience culture looks like in reality.  

The size of the organisation is irrelevant but I wanted to share some of his thoughts from a recent FastCompany interview .  There are a number of characteristics that we can all identify with, learn from or at least be reassured that we’re heading in the right direction.  

 

Firstly, Mr Fields emphasises the need to be very clear about who you are.  In Ford’s case they have been a manufacturing company.  With connectivity and the internet-of-things creating huge possibilities they are now moving through being a technology business to a user-experience and mobility company.

Transformation can be a scary word for many employees.  Ford’s approach therefore is to be clear that it’s not about moving from an old business to a new business, they are moving to a bigger and better business.  And that will need to include winning over everyone in the supply chain and the franchised sales and service teams too.

Wherever they work, colleagues are encouraged to challenge custom, to question tradition and to not take anything for granted.  Having worked for large corporates who frowned upon seeking and sharing learnings from outside the sector, that alone is refreshing to hear.

Ford reassures its people they wont get penalised for trying things, knowing that some will fail and some will succeed.  It might be in product design, customer engagement or stakeholder management.  It might be in new methods of customer feedback or in innovative ways to bring to life what it’s really like to be a customer.  But, so the approach goes, you learn whether you win or lose.

Virgin Atlantic has a similar philosophy.  Google Glass had certain benefits but the airline wanted to see how else it could make the lives of its employees better.  With wearable technology, they knew it would take some time for a critical mass of customers to use it but they found real advantages for their operations team.  As a result Virgin’s dispatchers now use smart watches to improve the turn-around efficiencies of aircraft.

On technology, with all the data, sensors and processing power we now have, Mark Fields is clear.  He wants Ford to be known for being an automotive and mobility company but is very aware of the risk of falling into the trap of technology for technology sake.  His answer is to think about the experiences first then find the best technology to deliver them.  It’s the same principle with customer measurement;  get the experience right first and the metrics will look after themselves.

It means that at Ford, there is a new and relentless focus on empathy.  They are using ethnography to better understand their customer personas, their interactions and how the products and services are used.  It gives greater certainty that the changes being made are the right ones.

road to success no shortcuts

There are no shortcuts on the road to cultural change

Cultural change is never quick.  After all, it’s a state of mind and isn’t something that can be project managed.  The right changes will not happen if the organisation is not open to the very idea of customer-centricity.  So to have the boss eulogising about the focus on customer experiences suggests the chances of longevity are good.

That said, Ford will be very aware that changing a culture takes years.  Back in 1909, customer-centricity had a different meaning.  To improve productivity and make the car affordable to the masses, the company’s founder Henry Ford restricted customers’ colour choice to black.  Those with memories of more recent times may recall Ford’s 1990s advertising campaign in which Brian May’s rousing soundtrack promised “Everything we do is driven by you”.  Albeit a strapline with an inward-looking perspective, it was well-intended.

So while first challenge is to have the right mindset, it doesn’t stop there. The key is then to keep up the momentum, to make sure everyone understands what that frame of reference is, why it’s important and what it means for them on a day-to-day basis.

Ford is not alone in having such a philosophy and Mark Fields isn’t the first CEO to say they are customer-centric.  Time will tell.  To succeed, I believe an organisation must combine a deep understanding of its customers with highly motivated employees.  But most important of all is that the business must also nurture a culture where those insights and enthusiasm are allowed the opportunity to prosper.  At best, it will drive a business forward as it adapts to the changing world.  At worst, it will stop it being from standing still and being overtaken.

 


Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it interesting and thought-provoking.  I’d love to hear what you think about the subject so please feel free to add your comments below.

I’m Jerry Angrave, founder of Empathyce and an ex-corporate customer experience practitioner.  I’m now a  CX consultant and an official trainer for the CXPA’s professional qualification to be a CCXP. If you’ve any questions about improving customer experience or CX professional development do please get in touch.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or on email I’m [email protected]

To subscribe for future posts please send an email to [email protected]

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Poor emails undo all the good brand work

We talk a lot about delivering the brand promise.  It’s one of the most critical balancing acts in the business strategy.  On the one hand, a very clear proposition so that everyone understands what they need to do and how.  On the other, what it feels like as a customer to be on the receiving end of what they do.

They should, of course, be one and the same.  The true test of whether a brand has been delivered and safely reached its destination is what customers say to each other, not what the strapline says it should be like.  Stress-testing customer experiences reveals flaws elsewhere

Yet I share with you here three very recent examples of where a business has set out with good intentions but the execution has been inconsistent to say the least.  The brands as such have all have been ‘delivered’ into my inbox.

A membership organisation with global reach wrote to me about renewing my subscription.  They are a very well-known body representing professionals in business and were extolling the virtues of how much more I would learn about customer experience if I renewed.  They say – that is, what they want us to believe the brand is all about – they are there to help companies grow.

The reality of the experience was somewhat different.  They had already reminded me to renew a few months back, then apologised that they had got the dates wrong.  And now, with an invitation to spend money on renewing my membership the email invitation was from someone called No Reply.  Not personal, not helpful and hardly inviting.  All the good effort that goes into creating the brand promise in the first place, undone in a simple email header.  That’s a careless brand, not a global professional one.

I’m sure you’ve had others too like it.

Our attention spans are short and there’s no shortage of advice in writing compelling emails.

I had one email this week with a subject heading “Private invitation”.  It looked intriguing but then the opening line was “ Hey guys…I’m a little surprised you haven’t taken me up on this yet “ – it was from a training company whose brand intention is all about engagement, learning and development.  I checked and it was the first email I’d had from them.  The brand reality as I experienced it is simply arrogant and contemptuous.  Why would I now bother wasting more time and reading any further let alone respond. Meanwhile the Marketing and Finance Directors are wondering why their ROI isn’t looking good.

In a similar vein, another email arrives with the heading “Re: Our call tomorrow” .  At a quick glance scanning through emails that is one I ought to take a look at.  But no, it’s a sales pitch for an event, nothing to do with a call that I’ve set up with someone.  Presumptuos and arrogant again.  It makes me feel like they are trying to con me – and they did. I opened the email and so their click through rates will look great. But now far from believing they are as they say, the provider of the world’s leading conferences, my emotive reaction to their tactics just shot them in their foot.

 

Having a crystal clear brand proposition is essential. Sharing it with everyone around the business critical.  Organisations have competitors;  customers have both a choice and a voice. Having the governance to ensure that customers’ experiences match the intended ones should be treated as a matter of survival.


Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it interesting and thought-provoking.  I’d love to hear what you think so please feel free to add your comments below.

I’m Jerry Angrave, founder of Empathyce and an ex-corporate customer experience practitioner.  Since 2012 I’ve been a CX consultant and am also an official trainer for the CXPA’s CCXP exam.  If you’ve any questions about improving customer experience or CX professional development do please get in touch.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or on email I’m [email protected]

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The future of airline passenger experience

The last two years have seen big steps forward in the airline passenger experience.  Some airlines doing great things in the name of creating a sustainable business. Others appear to be wedded to a get-rich-quick strategy.  So it’s not surprising that some have customers who help spread the good word while others feel they are been treated with contempt.  

 

But both make money, so which is more important – long-term survival or short-term P&L?  Different strategies for different airlines, but there is one common thread that is treated very differently: people. Or as they are known in some circles,“revenue generators”.

Last week I had the pleasure of once again being part of Terrapinn’s World Low Cost Airline Congress.  That the name of the event evolved this year into the Aviation Festival is testament to huge shifts within the industry even in the very recent past.Airline passenger experience

Only two years ago the mood in the airline sector appeared dark. It was distracted by existential challenges of economic pressures, merger activity and geopolitical forces.  Few were talking about customers let alone measuring what is was like to be one.  The focus remained on process efficiency, cost and short-term survival.

Forward a year and 2014 felt more positive.  It seemed that every conversation and presentation now contained reference to people, passengers or customers.  Yet while something customery needed to be done, it wasn’t entirely clear exactly what or how.

This year though, things moved on again with airlines and suppliers embracing the concept of passenger experience.  Maybe a more stable economy and lower fuel prices have helped move the spotlight.  But, so the theory goes, by aligning the business strategy, operations and partners with what customers value most, passengers will come back next time, spend more and tell their friends to do the same.

For airlines passenger experience is a sound business philosophy, neatly illustrated by two of the industry’s heavy-hitters.

 

Forward thinking for forward bookings

Ryanair has won awards for its “Always Getting Better” programme.  In a move unthinkable until very recently, Michael O’Leary put passenger experience at the top of his agenda when delivering the latest financial results to the markets. And CMO Kenny Jacobs talked last week about the focus on passengers going beyond an initiative to become a lasting cultural ethos.  It will move Ryanair from, in his words, being the baddest to the biggest and best.  Letting others make mistakes gives the airline what Jacobs, with a mischievous smile, calls its 4th-mover advantage.

It’s fair to say that over at Virgin Atlantic, they have enjoyed a longer history of benefiting from doing what customers appreciate.  That’s not to say they are taking their foot off the gas. Moving on from using Google Glass to enhance its experience for Upper Class passengers, the airline’s dispatch team are using smart-watches to improve efficiency of turn-around times and communication with customers.

They embody the test-learn-refine approach, happy to see where a new piece of technology might lead them.  If it’s down a dead-end route, so be it but without that culture they will have no foundation upon which to differentiate their experience or operations.

So in contrast to those who are doing some great things with culture and experiences, it was still a surprise to hear one airline doggedly beating the ‘grab every penny’ drum. To name them will serve little purpose but you will know them. I admire any organisation who has a clarity of proposition, though the explanation of their strategy sits less comfortably. To quote one of their senior executives: “We don’t look at what customers want. We look at what they are prepared to pay for”.

Least-cost processes and inflexible policies are then built rather than experiences. Meals (when paid-for) appear to meet approval but passenger feedback suggests that is a superficial and money-making priority compared with the things that should be a priority:  long queues at check-in, dirty aircraft and unfriendly staff.

This airline and many suppliers talk of passenger experience because it seems to be the fashionable thing to do rather than be a way of thinking.  The reality is that they already give their passengers an experience but because the driving forces remain revenue per passenger, operational efficiency and spreadsheets full of metrics, those experiences – whether deliberate or unintended – are not the ones that win favour.

Are they getting in their own way? Maybe it’s a deliberate, successful short-term strategy of survival and they will worry about next year, next year. Or will they see the balance that Ryanair are working towards as something to emulate?

Only they know the strategy, but passengers know what they’ll do next time.

 

What do passengers say to each other?

I’ve recently conducted some research into what passengers say to each other about airlines.  Increasingly, whatever we are buying, we look to see – and are influenced by – what the experience of other customers has been.  It’s no different when we choose which airline to fly with.too much effort

For this sector though, one factor shone through as being the biggest single reason why passengers rave about a particular airline or warn others to give them a wide berth; people.

Whether a positive or negative experience, a third of passengers cited the attitude and helpfulness of people as the reason for the good or poor experience.  In the positive camp, it was all about the cabin crew, attentive and friendly. When things went wrong however, it was people outside the aircraft who were at the root of the problems – ground crew, contact centres and service desks.  As passengers, we do not know nor do we care whether those roles are in-house or sub-contracted out. Whatever the clever strapline says, it’s the airline’s brand in their hands.

 

The future is already here

David Rowan, Editor of Wired magazine, proved at this year’s event that the future is not something that we can wait until tomorrow to get ready for.  Flying cars exist today.  Astronauts in the International Space Station are emailed instructions to make tools they didn’t know they’d need by using an onboard 3D printer. And tetraplegics can use brainwaves to guide a robot to help them drink.

Yet in 2015 we still have airlines with grumpy employees, slow and inflexible processes and scruffy aircraft.  Other markets outside aviation are moving fast and they are the ones who set our expectations as passengers about what a good experience should be like.  It doesn’t have to be “wow” or expensive;  if it’s empathetic it will be profitable.

There is clearly of a sense of optimism about the future for the industry and there are many airlines doing great things.  It’s a future that will be no less challenging but one where a genuine focus on passenger experiences will help secure a stronger future for load factors, revenue and forward bookings.

So for those who still don’t get it, beware the economic upturn because that will simply prise open the gap even further between the airlines that keep passengers, partners and investors coming back and those who simply run out of options. And passengers.

 


Thank you for your interest in this post about PaxEx.   I share these thoughts simply in the hope it will stimulate some thought about the consequences (intended and unintended) of how your business treats its own customers or helps others with their customers.

I’m Jerry Angrave, a Certified Customer Experience Professional, independent consultant and authorised trainer for the CCXP accreditation.  As founder and managing director of Empathyce, I’ve worked for or with organisations in the aviation and travel, retail banking, utilities, legal services and pharmaceutical industries across Europe and in New Zealand.

If you’ve any question on the post or on customer experience in general, please feel free to get in touch.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718072 or by email at [email protected]

 

 

 

 

Making technology relevant to the passenger experience

(This post was created as a guest blog for Total BlueSky in August 2015)

The speed and breadth of technological change not just in the aviation world presents fantastic opportunities.  The challenge however, is to take advantage of the right opportunities not just the latest opportunity. Understanding the things that passengers value most helps prioritise where investment and resource is best focused.

“We need to think like retailers, we need to be more digital” is the rallying cry in many away-day strategic planning session. After all, the retail sector is often the first roll-out new technology and in stores, online and bridging the divide between the two. Passenger experience

On the flip side however, why not use technology to create an airline that retailers aspire to be like?

As passengers we are all also consumers in other markets.  It is those interactions when buying a coffee, returning an item bought online or getting our telecoms provider to explain the latest bill that set our expectations.  Replicating best practice creates nothing new and is soon overtaken.  Even mobile, Apple and contactless payment methods quickly become established. Applying the right technology to the right problems on the other hand is a winning strategy.

That however, raises a few questions, not least in the debate about using the latest tech because we can, or using the most relevant tech.

Should our planning horizon be months rather than three or 5 years? If mobile, beacons and wearables are the answer, exactly what is the question? And if technology is so good, why do airlines automate check-in for passengers in economy yet retain the personal touch for those in business class.

It might make processing more cost-efficient but if I’m using it for the first time or it’s not working properly I’ll still expect someone there to help me. It feels very transactional, all about barcodes and processing with no apparent desire for any kind of relationship.  If I fly business class one week and economy the next, I’ll be paying less but I’ll also remember how the different approach made me feel when I’m booking my next business-class flight.

So another question might be “Who is benefiting most from the technology?”.  Is it the airline or airport who can leverage the benefits of data, measure processes more efficiently and drive down operating costs?

Or is it the passenger, for whom technology makes it easier to do business than with a competitor and so they return more often, spend more and tell everyone else to do the same?

At an aviation conference recently I asked a fellow speaker for their views on where technology and passenger experiences meet. Will there be a time in the not too distant future, I wondered, when I won’t be able to fly if I don’t have a smartphone?  The immediate and enthusiastic response was an unequivocal “Absolutely!”.

Nothing wrong with ambition, but there’s a real risk of making the assumption that owning a smartphone means being willing and able to use it in the way that airlines want passengers to.

A large US carrier launched its lost baggage app with a big fanfare and indeed, it did shows where a bag was and how that compared with where it should be.  That’s not an inconsiderable amount of time, money and opportunity cost to develop technology that is unlikely to be at the top of a passenger’s wish-list.

As a passenger, I expect my bag to make the same trip as me.  I accept that problems happen and that bags do go missing or not make onto the flight.  BA’s recent problems at LHR Terminal 5 highlighted that all too well. But would I download an app and keep checking it when the chances of it going missing are slim anyway and I’ve got a hundred other things to do?

On a trip to Poland recently, my bag didn’t make it.  I went to the information desk and got things sorted. Having just landed in a foreign country late at night, the baggage reclaim area was not where I would have expected to try and connect to a new mobile network and rely on an app to know more than the people in the room.  I would still have gone to the information desk anyway.

I put it to the airline who had developed the app that its usefulness was there, but limited.  The response was that passengers always want to know where their bags are. Personally, I assume they’re where they are supposed to be but if you go to the effort of producing an app, I’m inclined to feel less confident and believe now that’s a frequent occurrence.

And, I was told, as people in transit can run through an airport quicker than bags can be processed, it’s good to check if your bag is going to make it or not.  We then fell into a debate about designing (unintentional) experiences where people have to run, whether they’re fit, have just had a hip replacement, have amplified anxiety and so on.

The point is relevance.

We hear headlines that people are “always connected”. They will be connected to the things that are most relevant to them and help them do what they want to do.  In the case of lost bags, I know the airline has my cellphone number – they’ve reminded me to check-in early and stock up on duty-free goods ­- and I know they can link the bag to its owner.  So if there is an issue why can’t they get in touch with me before I even know there is a problem and solve it.

The slightly introspective approach also manifests itself in the green, orange and red “How was it for you?” buttons that greet us after security, by the gate or exiting customs.

They give a score, an indication of satisfaction at the point of interaction and add to the wealth or metrics and data. What they don’t yield is a qualitative element; why did someone tap the green button with a smile or punch the red button in frustration?

Without that, how do we know what to change?  And as a customer, if I’ve already told you what I think, why should I bother telling you again when I get an email the day after travelling back?

Thinking like a retailer might be a step in the right direction and there is obviously a place for technology.  But what makes the technology a good investment is the mindset and culture that it’s nurtured and developed in.  For example, where everyone in the project team understands and can keep on top of how and why passengers and therefore the business will benefit.

London City Airport has a huge focus on technology but for the primary reason of making the travelling experience better.  From that, they know, will flow more passengers and more revenue.  And the results are testimony to that approach; passenger numbers are expected to exceed 4 million this year.  Customer reviews suggest it’s the kind of airport you hope your airline will fly to.  And commercially, the owners have just put the airport up for sale with an estimated price tag of £2bn.

Technology plays a huge part but I recall LCY’s chief executive Declan Collier keeping things in perspective about how it’s used in an interview with Forrester in 2013. He said “Customer experience is nothing without delivery, and in our business, our propositions stand or fall on the ability of our people to deliver them”.

Adding to the sentiment from New Zealand is Andy Lester, Chief Operating Officer of Christchurch airport.  Such was the devastation of the tragic 2011 earthquake that much of the city is yet to be rebuilt.  However, speaking in Barcelona about how the airport has got back on its feet, he said “We have a great opportunity … but if we think like an airport or think like an airline we won’t see things the way our customers do”.

Airlines have access to some amazing technology. Passengers have a choice about who they fly with. Understanding the two sides and bringing them together in the right way will create a winning combination.


 

Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it interesting and thought-provoking.  I’d love to hear what you think so please feel free to add your comments below.

I’m Jerry Angrave, founder of Empathyce and an ex-corporate customer experience practitioner.  Since 2012 I’ve been a consultant helping others understand how best to improve their customer experiences.  If you’ve any questions about this or any other CX issue do please get in touch.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or on email I’m [email protected]

Thank you Jerry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerry Angrave

CCXP LogoCustomer Experience awards judge

Proof that better customer experiences mean better results

If you’re looking for more evidence to show a sceptical stakeholder that better customer experiences mean better results, the recent wave of financial reporting yields a helpful trend.

Not so long ago, updates were all about how a business was coping with the headwinds of tough economic times, exposure to foreign exchange movements, provisions and restructuring costs.  By comparison, little was said about how a business was improving things for the element that generates the bulk of revenue – customers.

In what is emerging as a push-pull scenario, that balance is changing.  One the one hand, companies are doing some great things on the customer agenda and are rightly and proudly shouting about it.  They know they need to be very aware of how what they do impacts on their customers in order to survive, let alone thrive.

On the other hand, investors want to know more.  They too know the commercial value that comes from having more customers coming back more often, spend more on higher margin products and telling everyone else to do the same.   In considering the future value and predictability of the business, they also now want to know how things are being made better and easier for customers.

The back-story to this week’s results from low-cost airline Ryanair is a well-documented but great example.

ryanair investor pres

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary and CFO Neil Sorahan deliver the Q1 results FY16 to investors

A few years ago, despite a very clear proposition they were not liked.  People tolerated them to a point but their apparent contempt of passengers played into the hands of competitors like Easyjet.  Having managed the cost-base to the bare minimum the wavering of higher-value customers was a serious threat.

In response, the “Always Getting Better” initiative was launched with a view to stopping doing the things that irked passengers unnecessarily and to do what they value better.

In its latest results announced this week the airline confirmed it has 380 new aircraft on order.  It has one of the strongest balance sheets in the industry.  Load factors, margins and forward bookings are rising. And it flew over 100 million people in the last year.

But what really stood out in this week’s video briefing by Michael O’Leary was how high up the agenda customer experience now is.  Once not apparently even on the agenda, customer experience is given the spotlight right after the opening headline performance numbers and before an update on fuel hedging, the wider strategic view and financial details.

Not only is the renewed focus on customers having an immediate and beneficial impact, it also helps protect the business in future when the market gets tough.  Two years in to the Always Getting Better programme, it is described as performing “extraordinarily well”.   The increases in load factors and forward booking are, Mr O’Leary asserts, a sign that customers are responding positively to the programme.  And, we are told, that such is the strategic role now played by customer experience at Ryanair that the commercial interest in Aer Lingus is deemed no longer relevant.

 

greggs

Greggs’ focus on in-store customer experience pays dividends

Over in a very different sector, but citing the same focus on customers in its strong results this week, is UK food-on-the-go retailer Greggs.   Despite a 6% increase in sales, growth in its Balanced Choice range of healthy food options and benefiting from low inflation leaving more money in people’s pockets, it is not complacent.  Reporting its operational highlights to the market, CEO Roger Whiteside shares and celebrates what Greggs is doing to achieve ‘great customer experiences’ – one of the four cornerstones of its business strategy.

 

Elsewhere, the reverse is true.  Market analysts who see little growth potential or who are surprised by lacklustre results often cite brands being ‘out of touch’ with their customers and not being organised to serve them properly.

In Japan, Honda chief Takahiro Hachigo recently told markets about how he will rebuild the company following a wave of product recalls that has eroded trust and production targets that have left it with excess capacity in a mature market.  Mr Hachigo’s plan is not about aggressive growth for the sake of it or chasing headline target numbers.  The focus now is on understanding customers better to “deliver their dreams”.  Quite what that looks like remains to be seen, but paired with an ambition to “strengthen communication with people on the ground” the message to investors that it will be about organic, customer-led growth rather than an obsession with metrics, is clear.

 

Giving investors confidence in a predictable business was also the subject of an interview I did recently with Dan Moross of MOO.  The online printer of business cards and stationery enjoys rave reviews from customers, attracts top talent and is regarded by industry commentators as an exemplary start-up.

Key to it all though, is the culture where their people are given the tools, processes and permission to help their customers any way they can.  On a per transaction basis the margins might be shaved, but that is more than made up for in the greater volume of customers attracted by what they hear about MOO.  Are investors happy with that approach, I asked Dan. “Absolutely” was the emphatic reply.  Read that interview here.

 

The focus on customers is not the whole story for many companies.  But, not only is it giving them a good story to tell, investors want to hear how it will help them – and that goes for those sceptical stakeholders too.


Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it interesting and thought-provoking.  I’d love to hear what you think so please feel free to add your comments below.

I’m Jerry Angrave, founder of Empathyce and an ex-corporate customer experience practitioner.  Since 2012 I’ve been a consultant helping others understand how best to improve their customer experiences.  If you’ve any questions about the relationship between customer experience and financial strength or any other CX issue do please get in touch for a chat.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or on email I’m [email protected]

Thank you Jerry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerry Angrave

CCXP LogoCustomer Experience awards judge

How not to increase the customer experience scores

It’s “good news, bad news” time for measuring customer experience.   The good news is that some people have found really quick and easy ways to increase customer scores.  The bad news is that those creative solutions can be catastrophic for the business and ultimately the people themselves.fans

We’ll look at the reasons why it happens and the consequences in a moment.  Firstly though, I suspect we’re all agreed that for any organisation to improve it needs to measure the things that matter, not what is convenient.  They will use a combination of quantitative and qualitative feedback from customers and employees to influence the right change and investment decisions.

However, the pressure for better and better metrics can easily lead to gaming of the customer experience scores and measurement system.   The following examples are ones I’ve genuinely come across in recent times.  I share them with you to illustrate what can happen and to hopefully prompt a sense-check that it’s not happening in your business.

 

  • Misleading respondents:  Net Promoter Score and others like it have their place.  Each method has its own critical nuances that require a severe ‘handle with care’ advisory.  So what certainly doesn’t help is where those carrying out the surveys have been told to, or are allowed to, manipulate the scoring system.  In other words, when asking for an NPS (recommendation) number they tell the customer that “A score of 0-6 means the service was appalling, 7 or 8 is bad to mediocre and 9 or 10 is good”.  And hey presto, higher NPS.
  • Cajoling:  I’ve also listened-in to research agencies saying to customers “Are you sure it’s only an eight, do you mean a nine?  There’s hardly any difference anyway”.  Maybe not to the customer there’s not but it’s very significant in the final calculation of the score.  Or, in response to a customer who is trying to make up their mind, “You said it was good so would that be ten maybe, or how about settle for nine?”.  More good scores on their way.
  • Incentivising customers:  the Board of a franchised operation couldn’t understand why its customer scores were fantastic but it’s revenue was falling off a cliff.  It turned out that if a customer wanted to give anything other than a top score in the survey they were offered a 20% discount next time they came in-store in return for upgrading their score to a 9 or 10.  Not only that, but the customers got wise to it and demanded discounts (in return for a top score) every other time in future too as they “know how the system works”.
  • Responses not anonymised: too often, the quest for customer feedback gets hijacked by an opportunity to collect customer details and data.  I’ve seen branch managers stand over customers while they fill in response forms.  Receipts from a cafe or restaurant invite you to leave feedback using a unique reference number that customers understandably think could link their response to the card details and therefore them.  Employee surveys that purport to be anonymous but then ask for sex, age, length of service, role – all things that make it easy to pinpoint a respondent especially in a small team.  So it’s not surprising that that unless there is been a cataclysmic failure, reponses will be unconfrontational, generically pleasant and of absolutely no use at all.
  • Slamming the loop shut:  Not just closing it.  It’s the extension of responses not being anonymous.  Where they are happy to share their details and to be contacted, following up good or bad feedback is a brilliant way to engage customers and employees.  But I’ve also seen complaints from customers saying the branch manager or contact centre manager called them and gave them a hard time. Berating a customer for leaving honest feedback is a brilliant way to hand them over to a competitor.
  • Comparing apples with potatoes:  It’s understandable why companies want to benchmark themselves against their peer group of competitors or the best companies in other markets.  It’s easy to look at one number and say whether it’s higher or lower than another.  But making comparisons with other companies’ customer scores without knowing how those results are arrived at will be misleading at best and at worst make a company complacent.  There are useful benchmarking indices such as those from Bruce Temkin whose surveys have the volume and breadth to minimise discrepancies.  But to compare one company’s NPS or Satisfaction scores in the absence of knowing at what point in the customer journey or how their customers were surveyed can draw some very unreliable conclusions.
  • Selective myopia:  Talking of benchmarking, one famous sector leader (by market share) makes a huge fanfare internally of having the highest customer satisfaction scores of its competitors.  Yet it conveniently ignores one other equally famous competitor who has significantly higher customer scores.  The reason is a flawed technicality in that they have identical products, which customers can easily switch to and from but one operates without high street stores (yet it makes other branded stores available to use on its behalf).  First among unequals.
  • Unintended consequences:  a leadership team told me that despite all the complaints about the service, its staff didn’t need any focus because they were highly engaged.  The survey said so.  However, talking to the same employees out on the floor, they said it was an awful place to work.  They knew what was going wrong and causing the complaints but no-one listened to their ideas.  They didn’t know who to turn to so they could help a customer and their own products and services were difficult to explain. Why then, did they have such high engagement scores?  Because the employees thought (wrongly, as it happens) that a high index was needed if they stood any chance of getting a bonus so they ticked that box whenever the survey came round.  The reality was a complete lack of interest or pride in their job (some said they would rather tell friends they were unemployed) and no prizes for guessing what that meant for customers’ experiences.

    A downward spiral – the consequences of gaming customer scores

 

Of course, metrics are necessary but their value is only really insightful when understood in the context of the qualitative responses. The consequences of getting that balance wrong are easy to understand but the reasons why are more complex.  That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be addressed.

The damaging impact of the complacency comes from believing things are better than they are.  If a number is higher than it was last time, that’s all that matters, surely.  Wrong.  The business risk is that investments and resources will continue to be directed to the things that further down the line will become a low priority or simply a wasted cost in doing the wrong things really well.

What’s just as damaging is the impact the gaming has on people.  The examples I’ve mentioned here are from some of the largest organisations in their respective markets, not small companies simply over-enthusiastically trying to do their best.  Scale may be part of the problem, where ruling by metrics is the easiest way to manage a business.  That is one of the biggest causes of customer scores being over-inflated;  the pressure managers put on their team to be rewarded by relentlessly making things better as measured by a headline customer number, however flawed that is.

It’s a cultural thing. Where gaming of the numbers does happen, those who do it or ask for it to happen may feel they have little choice.  If people know there are smoke and mirrors at work to manipulate the numbers or if they are being asked to not bother about what they know is important, what kind of a place must that be to work in? The good talent won’t hang around for long.

For me, beyond being timely and accurate there are three criteria that every customer measurement framework must adhere to.

  1. Relevant:  they must measure what’s most important to customers and the strategic aims of the business
  2. Complete: the measures must give a realistic representation of the whole customer journey, not just specific points weeks after they happened
  3. Influential: CX professionals must be able to use the qualitative and quantitative insights to bring about the right change.

As ever, my mantra on this has always been to get the experience right first then the numbers will follow.  I’d urge you to reflect on your own measurement system and be comfortable that the scores you get are accurate and reliable.

It’s also worth asking why would very good and capable people feel they had to tell a story that sounds better than it is. Leaders and managers, your thoughts please…

 


Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it interesting and thought-provoking.  I’d love to hear what you think so please feel free to add your comments below.

I’m Jerry Angrave, an ex-corporate customer experience practitioner and since 2012 I’ve been a consultant helping others understand how best to improve their customer experiences.  If you’ve any questions about customer measurement or any other CX issue do please get in touch for a chat.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or on email I’m [email protected]

Thank you Jerry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerry Angrave

CCXP and a judge at the UK Customer Experience Awards

Little things versus Wow customer experiences

Having real coat hangers in the wardrobe of a hotel-room might not make a Wow customer experience or a Moment of Magic.  But, it’s a great illustration of how small things can make a big impact.Wow customer experiences

Stakeholders often baulk at the idea of improving customer experiences for fear that it will cost more, it will force employees to do jobs they are not targetted on or it will require new, complex processes.  But those customer experience sceptics would be reassured by an example set by Marriott’s Renaissance Monarch Hotel in Moscow.

I’d been invited there to speak at a conference about customer experience.  Always keen to observe and learn, I developed a real liking for the hotel and its people but at first couldn’t put my finger on exactly why.  Yes, it was very nice but there was no fanfare, no obvious “Tad-dah!”, nothing forced. It just worked.

It became apparent that there was simply a series of little things that were personal and relevant when they needed to be.  None of them are costly, none of them distracting for the employees and no complex systems involved.  They could be done just as well by a 7-star hotel in the sun or a draughty backpackers in the rain.   Here’s what I mean:

  • It goes without saying that the people had the right attitude.  They were attentive, engaging and helpful. They could spot this Brit a mile away and had their English reply to my awful attempts at Russian ready.  A smile costs nothing yet its absence (we won’t go into the airport experience here…) can be so costly.
  • Whatever training they have, it is effective.  Everyone who worked there had a genuine desire to help their guests, something that was epitomised in the name badges of the front-line team – they were all called “Navigators”.  Maybe a bit cheesy but whatever the label, the intent was authentic.
  • I was joined at the event by Customer Experience Specialist and fellow CCXP Ian Golding.  After our speaking sessions, Ian and I had the opportunity to jump on the metro for a couple of stops to visit Red Square and the Kremlin, places I never thought I’d be.  The guy behind the hotel check-in desk was very helpful in giving me instructions and directions.  In that, there was nothing special but just as we headed off, he produced a business card and said – in English – “Here. If you get any problems or have any questions, here is my number. Call me and I will help you”.  In an unfamiliar city and with limited time to get back and catch a flight home, that was reassuring. I wondered how many hotel staff in the UK would afford a foreign guest the same level of respect.

    Our experience, made better by the hotel

    A gratuitous selfie experience, made easier by the hotel’s people

  • For too long, wi-fi connections in hotels have been used as an income generator and treated as a cost centre for which customers must pay.  At this hotel though, not only was the wi-fi free (again, nothing particularly special there) but what was very helpful was that the connection remained valid for the full 24-hour period even after checking out.  They know that many guests will continue to remain in the hotel and it actually encourages them to do so in order to have breakfast, hire meeting rooms or take lunch.
  • It’s often said that a company’s true approach to its customers and employees is revealed by the state of the toilets.  These were spotlessly clean as you’d expect but what I didn’t expect was that the urinals were filled with ice to reduce odours and maintain the cleanliness.
  • And those coat hangers?  Actually, it’s not about the coat hangers themselves; its about what it says.  To me, it says “Welcome, we trust you, have a nice stay”. Compare that with the message you feel you’re getting with those hangers that can be removed but have no hook and are therefore useless anywhere but that (often just as expensive) hotel room. To me, that shouts out “Ha! Gotcha! Thought about nicking it did ya? Well we don’t trust you so we’re not going to risk losing the cost of one hanger every now and then just so you can feel at home”.

These little things make a big difference and for little cost.  I have no connection with Marriott Hotels Group other than I am occasionally fortunate enough to be put up in one.  But the point here is not about the hotel;  it’s the food for thought that it gives about how other companies across very different markets might take the same approach. Forget searching for that contrived “Wow!” moment and understand the little things that are really important to your customers.

The ironic reality, of course, is that the combination of getting simple things right and executing the basics well every time gets close to being a “Wow” experience anyway.  They are the things that make us feel like someone understands us and is on our side.  It’s not much to ask but means such a lot.  We’ll be a lot more forgiving if something does go wrong but the real commercial benefit is that we’ll tell everyone else about it and when we can, we’ll come back.  I hope I do.

Let me know what you think.


 

If you have a customer experience issue – strategic, cultural or tactical – that you need a hand with, or if you’ve any questions about this blog post do let me know.

I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or email [email protected].  ja speaking

Thank you, I hope you found the post interesting and please feel free to add your own views below.

Jerry Angrave, CCXP

 


 

Three effective open questions to ask customers

Organisations have an insatiable appetite for customer feedback and with good reason. Asking effective open questions, however, is easier said than done.  Customers are being asked several times a day what they think and with our customer hat on we all know what that feels like.  It’s therefore commercially vital that the questions we ask in those surveys make it easy for customers.  And yet one of the most popular questions used today is also one of the most difficult to answer.

There are variations in the wording, but to ask “What’s the one thing we could do differently?” would appear to be a good starting point.  It is certainly better than nothing or simply focusing on the scores.

Its flaw however, is that it’s a question that has been transposed from the performance management frameworks of corporate HR departments.  Back in the day, my boss and I would seek the views of my peers and stakeholders (my “internal customers”) on what I should do more of, do less of and do differently.  They all knew me well and they knew what I should be trying to achieve in the context of the culture and company.

Giving customers the same line of questioning assumes that they live and breathe the brand, its operational limitations and regulatory mandates day-in day-out.  It assumes that they know what the business and its purpose is all about and that they know what the limitations or ambitions of the company are.  They don’t, and in fairness I see many companies where the employees struggle to articulate the purpose and customer strategy, let alone their customers.

It’s a little ironic therefore that at the very time when we’re trying to find out about our customers, this question is all about us.  At best therefore, it seems an unfair question to ask customers to comment on things they are not familiar with.  At worst, customers will try and second guess or make assumptions of their own. Responses might give a sense of direction and indeed, some qualitative context is better than a void, but either way there are other questions that will produce better results.

Here are three effective open questions that might give your feedback programme better insights:

 

What would you say to a friend about what it’s like to do business with us?

The first one here is a question I always urge my clients to ask.  It gets straight to the root of what a customer feels.  It’s easy for them to relate to as the starting point for their observation is familiar ground.  It’s personal, empathetic and is asking for the whole truth, however uncomfortable that may be to hear.   Of course, the follow-up question “Why?” is on hand if extra colour is needed but often this simple question generates rich insights on its own.

 

What do you think our employees would say about you?

I’m indebted to Piers Alington of Feedback Ferret for sharing this one and is a brilliant litmus test of the real culture versus what the leadership team believe it to be. It also strikes at the heart of what it feels like to interact with a business.  Ordering the widget might have been easy, the product might work as it is supposed to but if there’s even a hint of contempt or lack of understanding – issues that silently send customers to competitors – this question will flush that out.

 

If you had 2 minutes with our CEO what would you say?

Jamie Ziegler of Convergys reminded me of this searching question in a CXPA forum recently.  It really focuses the customer’s mind on what’s important and reaches out to either end of the spectrum of what’s brilliant and what’s terrible.  As Jamie says, it also creates a human connection.  It increases the sense that the feedback is listened to and passed on, something that is a welcome change from the clinical nature of most surveys.

 

If we are going to the effort of creating a survey, getting buy-in for an internal governance framework to act on the insights and we are going to get the most from a customer’s limited attention span, the questions need to work really hard to be really easy.

There will be other great questions to ask – let me know your thoughts so we can share those too!

 


If you’d like to know more about getting the right type of feedback or how I might be able to help with any other strategic or tactical aspect of customer experience do please get in touch – I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or email [email protected].  I’m a CX consultant with a real-world background, I run workshops and speak about customer experience at events across Europe.ja speaking

Thank you, I hope you found the post interesting and thought-provoking, and please feel free to add your own views below.

Jerry Angrave, CCXP


 

Gaming the customer experience measurement system: why?

The credibility of customer experience is at risk from employees who game the measurement system.  They are motivated to play the system because their performance management reviews depend on it. We can dismiss it as a by-product of the organisation’s ‘culture’ but cultures are made up of people and people allow it to happen –  especially when everything is about the number and not why the number is what it is.

Where employees feel compelled to make things look better than they really are, bad commercial decisions will be made or good ones will be deferred, based on what is effectively false evidence.give us a 10

It’s a crucial issue but one that is often hidden behind the internal rhetoric that proclaims “We put customers first”.  Unfortunately there are many examples of gaming the customer measurement system and here are just some of those I’ve come across in recent times.  They show that if the focus is on a headline number and not the qualitative insight, the competitive advantage and lower costs the measurement is supposed to generate will never materialise:

  • The leadership team believed they had good employee engagement because the scores in the survey said so. However, in one-to-one conversations with the team on on the floor, employees said it was a dreadful place to work.  Some would rather tell friends they were unemployed than say who they worked for.  But when the survey came round, they ticked the top box because they thought (incorrectly as it turned out) that a high score for the company was a key metric in determining whether or not they had a bonus at the end of the year.
  • Contact centre agents asked customers for a Net Promoter Score (NPS) on the basis that “A score of between zero and three is atrocious, between four and eight is not very good and a nine or a ten is good”.
  • A car retailer couldn’t work out why revenues were down but advocacy scores were high. Because they were incentivised to have high NPS results, franchises followed up purchases with a courtesy call and request for a net promoter score. Customers were actively encouraged to give a top score, in return for which they would get a discount off a service or tyres.  And when customers booked a car in for subsequent services, they took the initiative and demanded the lower price in return for giving higher scores.
  • A large multi-brand, multi-channel organisation announced internally that any salary rise at the end of the year was conditional on a increase in customer scores. Immediately, behaviours changed.  There were requests to the reporting team to remove scores from certain journeys because they weren’t good, to change the weighting of different elements making up the overall score and complaints were received from customers who were put under pressure to increase the scores they had already given.
  • Stressed and insecure managers, looking to give their bosses what they want to see, tell their team “This is the story I want to tell, go and find the evidence”.  Meanwhile, the reality of what is happening to customers conveniently goes unreported.

There will be more, but I would urge you to reflect on your measurement system – if it could be manipulated, how might that be and how can I find out?  Are your findings and influencing skills exposed to a challenge from the board about their credibility? And so on.  But the bigger question has to be “Why?”.  What is it about the way the company treats and rewards its people that is effectively weakening decision-making, costing more and handing the advantage to competitors?

I spend my working life advising organisations that they should not chase the number.  It’s important but it’s not the end-game.  Measure the right things, understand what it’s telling you and change what needs changing; but never chase the number for the sake of it. It drives all the wrong behaviours and causes more harm than good.  My mantra : Get the experiences right and the number will look after itself.

If you’ve heard about examples of how the numbers can be manipulated and how that then affects decision-making, please share your thoughts!

 

If you’d like to know more about measuring the right customer experiences or how I might be able to help with any other aspect of customer experience do please get in touch – I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or email [email protected].  ja speaking

Thank you, I hope you found the post interesting and thought-provoking, and please feel free to add your own views below.

Jerry Angrave


 

 

 

 

 

British Gas and United: learnings from their customers with special needs

Understand where customers and companies meet

Understanding what happens when customers and companies meet

Companies who treat Special Needs customers with genuine empathy, supported by internal engagement and education, not only do the right thing but see benefits for all their other customer segments too.  There are two contrasting stories here about how companies deal with the same type of customer in completely different ways; the differences being understanding and communication and clear answers to “Would you buy from us again?”.

There is no upper limit on how strongly I feel about how organisations should really understand their customers; and for personal reasons, even more so when those customer have special needs.  Those people have conditions that may not necessarily be visible but are nonetheless extremely real for them and the people they are with.  They see, and interact with, the world in different ways and a company that is genuinely customer-led will get it.  Others will try to shoe-horn round pegs of customers into the square pegs of their processes and wonder why – or worse, not realise – they do more damage than good.

This is not just about it being the right thing to do.  Companies can be so much more efficient and profitable with the right thinking and attitude. And for those companies saying it’s a customer segment too small or complex to worry about, neither the planning nor delivery is expensive but can be so rewarding in many other ways.  Elite athletes and leadership gurus say that we need to exaggerate what we are trying to do and stretch our imagination if we want to get anywhere near our goals.  If you want to fly above the clouds, shoot for the stars.  The brilliant thing about people with special needs is that they can teach us so much about ourselves, put what we see as the norm into perspective and really challenge the way we do things.  If we get it right for them, we get things right for most other people too.  I wrote more about that in a blog on customer experiences for people with special needs last year.

I’m highlighting two very recent examples here to illustrate what an unintended (to give them the benefit of the doubt) lack of empathy looks like compared with one where they have it sorted.

United Airlines were once again in the headlines this week for less than good customer experiences.  According to the headlines a pilot made an emergency landing and had police officers remove an autistic 15-year old girl and her family – because she had been displaying behavioural signs that most autistic people do. I’m not privvy to the facts and I have every admiration for pilots who get me home safely and are making life and death decisions day-in day-out.  However, the airline knew about the girl’s condition, the family had let them know that before flying.  Flying with an autism is a brave thing to do, for the family aswell as the child.  That anxiety-filled experience would have started as soon as planning the trip began.  People with such conditions rely on routine, on understanding what will happen step by step and can live moment-by-moment so if certainty and boundaries are absent, any emotion becomes amplified.  Autism isn’t a rare condition and for me, the airline and crew should know that and be able to respond accordingly.

So being in a state of heightened anxiety, maybe just about getting through life emotionally and probably not having had a good night’s sleep for years, how must they have felt at being ‘responsible’ for diverting the aircraft and delaying others while trying to keep calm and the situation under control?  How must they feel to have police officers escort them off the plane? How did the airline then help them cope with the unplanned visit to another destination when they are so dependent on routine, familiarity with the environment and certainty?

From a personal and a commercial customer experience perspective I would love to understand what happened and what the airline did. The airline itself says “The United brand vision is more than just words on paper. It is shaped by every aspect of our customer and co-worker experience“.  Very true.  The brand is what customers tell each other it is.

Other airlines know it’s an issue and deal with it well.  Even Los Angeles International Airport now lets customers with special needs pick up a discrete sticker badge to wear, so that staff can be quicker to anticipate issues and help when it’s needed.

Continuing on that more positive note and with the other example, it was refreshing to see that a switch can be flicked to send a company into a different mode when they know they are dealing with someone with special needs.  A British Gas engineer came to service my boiler at home. He was very polite and got on with the job quickly, leaving with a message to say all was well.  I then left for a meeting and returned later that afternoon to discover that not only was there no hot water, there was no water coming out of the hot taps. That’s not a great scenario heading into tea-time and bath-time for the kids.  I rang the helpline, who told me I could not have an engineer out until tomorrow at the earliest.  Things were not looking great, feeling that I am now having to pay for their mistake.  “Really?  There’s nothing you can do? You’re leaving us with two kids and no hot water?”.  “Sorry, I’ve checked again but no.” was the reply.

I’m lucky to live in a country where we take fresh and hot water for granted and there are bigger problems people face day-in day-out.  But at that point in time I was concerned – my son has special needs that mean he needs a wash each day, something he can’t do by himself.  And like the position the girl on the plane found herself in, without the routine and at the tired end of the day, things were now predictably going to be stressful and unpleasant.  I mentioned it in passing to the lady on the helpline, thinking out loud and not to get any special favours but just because I wanted her to know the consequences of their actions. “Special needs?” she asked. That changed things immediately. She asked about the condition and then for what they call “vulnerable” customer, all the stops were pulled out. “It won’t be a problem, we’ll get it sorted tonight. Leave it with us”.  Sure enough, an engineer rang back and was able to talk me through fixing the problem – the previous engineer had left a valve closed, which needed turning 90 degrees to open it.  Simple. All sorted, over the phone.

I appreciate what British Gas did in the end and am grateful the evening remained calm.  But I couldn’t help wondering why they keep that process tucked away for vulnerable customers when it’s what any type of customer needs if they are in a predicament, especially one created by the company in the first place. That will remain the prerogative of their commercial decision-making.

But in one of many sectors where differentiation is sought as much as it is a necessity, the companies that show their employees how to genuinely understand customers will be the ones who get more people coming back, spending more and telling others to do the same.  By paying attention to those with special needs, the treatment of all customers will benefit.  The companies that don’t will simply have all the wrong headlines and wonder why their customer base and profitability is shrinking.

 

If you’d like to know more about this subject or how I might be able to help with any other aspect of customer experience do please get in touch – I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or can be contacted by email at [email protected].  ja speaking

Thank you, I hope you found the post interesting and thought-provoking, and please feel free to add your own views below.

Jerry Angrave

Voting for customer experience, one small step at a time

The build-up to this week’s election in the UK has been rooted in uncertainty. If the media reports are to be believed, no single party has been persuasive enough to win over the backing of a majority for the changes they believe in. Time will tell.  It also provides topical food for thought about the role of the customer experience professional in influencing change.

 

For those leading and managing customer-led change it can be a daunting prospect. Understanding what to do and how to do it is one thing; convincing others is quite another. Metric-obsessed stakeholders, divisions that operate  with seemingly no common objectives and teams that should but don’t talk to each other are just some of the regular barriers.

Finding a little, genuine, inspiration is hard to come by. Books, budgets and “We put customers first” posters don’t change things.  People, attitudes and belief do.  And more often than not the biggest changes start with the smallest steps; people sharing their passion.books people

In my job as a customer experience consultant I get to meet many people who are pushing the agenda forward with one hand while having to pull the organisation along with the other. One example in particular stands out.

A global organisation that generates annual revenues in excess of $40 billion became complacent about its big numbers.  Unintentionally, it put increased competition and disenfranchised customers into its blind spot. Cutting margins to sell more and aggressive M&A activity only mask the underlying issues. But the passion of one of its 75,000 employees is bringing about a huge change, one that is making the company redefine and renew relationship with customers it thought it knew so well but in reality was clinging on to them by a thread.

How? Rather than try and change everything all at once, a series of small steps is leading to a giant leap compared to where they were. One individual, armed with passion, knowledge and evidence about what an authentic focus on customers can achieve commercially.  He engaged people close to him and showed how customer experience thinking can help them achieve their own objectives. He initially built a small group of highly engaged people at all levels who then in turn shared the belief about what the right changes could bring with their stakeholders.

From there, the engagement spread using sometimes brutally uncomfortable customer feedback as the catalyst. It’s just the start, but that company is changing its own culture, it is actively immersing its employees across many countries in customer experience and revising its activity plans.  If an organisation has personality, this one is showing real signs of the passion and belief of the individual who started the change.  It is starting to bring about the right changes effectively and efficiently rather than doing as much “stuff” as it can in the hope that a proportion of it lands ok.

One voice, with real belief can make massive changes with the momentum it creates. One other timely example comes from this week’s election.   The political colours of my home town Cheltenham have at various times been Conservative blue or Liberal yellow. But not the red of Labour. Having lived there most of my life I cannot even remember seeing a red poster stuck in the front window of any house at any election. Until now, due to the passion and belief of one person about doing what he believes is the right thing.

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The party is irrelevant; the change it represents is significant

Paul Gilbert is CEO of a successful management consultancy showing in-house lawyers around the world how to fulfill their potential and how to be better business people. But this week, Paul also steps up to be counted as the Labour party’s candidate to be Cheltenham’s MP.  As an aside, his politically agnostic post here about why voting is about us rather than a specific party is well worth a read.

This is not a blog to promote one party over another.  It is about having the confidence in doing what is right that leads to the first small signs of change.  Even Paul would admit that based on past performance the party HQ statisticians will say a victory is highly unlikely.  But in a population that looks in one direction he has managed to get some to look at things in a different way. It started with one small step; to simply talk about what he believed in and why.  His generous, self-depreciating approach hides one of the sharpest minds and the empathetic way he communicated made people sit up and take notice. As a result, he became a parliamentary candidate for the town and such is his passion that strangers are now happy to advertise to the world that they will vote for him.  Don’t get me wrong, we are not about to see a political upheaval.  The signs appearing might be few in number and small in size but they are a metaphorical sign that as daunting as changing other people’s own beliefs may be, it is possible.

In the coming days and weeks we may hear a lot more about the Citizen Experience as the election events unfold. In the meantime, the rest of us don’t need to convince a whole country that voting for customer experience is the right thing to do; if we share the passion and belief, big changes can start to happen, little step by little step.

What are your thoughts on leading the very beginnings of change?

Jerry


 

 

 

There’s no need to measure customer effort

Do we need to measure customer effort? The presence of any effort should be enough to set alarm bells ringing.  Knowing a score out of 10 or tracking a percentage may give KPI-focused colleagues a degree of comfort but that can also be an excuse to defer remedial action on the basis that “It’s not as bad as it could be, yet“.
Customer effort

If it feels wrong it probably is

Measurement of the right customer experiences in a way that fuels a rolling programme of improvement is, of course, essential.  To measure customer effort is to monitor one of the symptoms of our customer experiences but it is nonetheless very challenging to get right.  Setting up reliable and timely surveys can be a complex task but by changing the mindset there is another option for organisations looking to head down the customer effort path: simply believe that any effort is too much effort.  And the biggest clues about whether there is too much effort are often much closer than we think.

When we’re ill we don’t need a thermometer reading to tell us we have a temperature.  When it rains we don’t need to know how many millimetres fell to tell us we got soaked.  And we don’t need a metric to tell us that a customer experience is more effort than it should be.  We know when things are wrong, we have the signs and we build the processes; we don’t need to measure it to know it’s there.

Customers will tell us about the causes of complaints, niggles and gripes.  The operations and IT teams will be asked to build manual work-arounds.  Processes to fix recurring issues are created.  I recently worked with a software manufacturer who took real pride in helping customers when things go wrong or happened more slowly than expected.  What they hadn’t grasped was that the reason they had to bend over backwards all the time was because their original proposition was flawed and made it a real chore for their customers to do business with them.

If there is an element of effort then there is already a problem. It doesn’t matter what the scale or metrics say. If things could be easier for customers then there are commercial decisions to be made. Why is not easier? Are we happy to put customers through that and keep our fingers crossed that it is not, or will not become, a competitive disadvantage? A company that doesn’t bother to put the effort in itself will simply transfer that effort to customers with inevitable consequences.

By way of example, I recently flew from London to Warsaw to speak at a customer experience conference. I was impressed with the airport, Heathrow’s relatively new T2. It was quick and easy, clean and friendly. It didn’t need to be any more than that.  I got lucky on the flight too, a new 787 Dreamliner which was half empty. So far so good. It reminded me of Amazon’s perspective that the best experience is no experience. Zero effort.

Measure customer effort

Good news – suitcase is found. Bad news – zips broken, padlock missing and a whole heap of effort awaits

But when I went to pick up my bag from the luggage carousel it wasn’t there. The world has greater problems on its mind but for me at that time, late at night and with no clothes for my presentation in the morning other than what I stood in, it wasn’t what I needed.

I accept (but I shouldn’t) that bags do go missing.  But lost bags are obviously a highly regular occurrence judging by the way the process and form-filling swung into action. The very presence of that process should be mirrored by an experience that is empathetic and minimises the impact on the passenger.

There were no instructions though about what happens next, no empathy to the position I’m in.  Next morning I present my keynote in the same clothes but at least have an opening story at my and the airline’s expense.

Maybe the problem is that there are too many stakeholders, or rather a lack of communication between them.  When I returned to Heathrow the next night it took an hour to drive just to the exit of the main terminal car park. The security guys explained that the cause was roadworks on the access roads, which happen every night at the moment and so too does the ensuing chaos.  If the people who have an impact on the customer experience talked to each other they wouldn’t need to ask me how my parking experience was and they could manage expectations at the very least.

Fast forward a few days and my bag is returned home. My relief was short lived as the lock had been prised apart.  The zips are damaged beyond repair, the padlock is missing and the bag has obviously been opened. I contact the airport but get no apology, just a reply blaming the airline and a link to the airline’s contact details. Except that it’s a list of all airlines who fly out of that airport and the contact details are simply their web addresses.

Thus starts a lengthy process to try and find out who I need to talk to, how I can contact them and what information they need from me. The airline I flew with has an invalid email contact address on its website that bounces back. Not helpful.  There are then so many processes and “ifs” and “buts” that I’m now feeling like it’s too much effort to make a claim.too much effort

They shouldn’t need to measure the customer effort.  There is enough evidence internally without having to ask their customers what they are like to do business with.  They shouldn’t need to because they have designed processes that – sometimes unintentionally – put more effort onto the customer. And that should be an alarm bell ringing loudly enough without the need to know how many decibels it is.

As far as my bag is concerned, I might decide to give in and put it down to a bad experience because it’s neither time nor effort well spent.  Cynics might say that’s what they want, to make the experience so difficult that people don’t bother.  It will keep their costs down after all and keep the wrong processes working perfectly.

However, what I can do with virtually no effort at all is to choose another airport / airline combination next time.  For them, that’s a lot more costly.

 


 

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The power of unexpected customer experiences

The environment in which we go about about our daily lives tends to be a familiar one.  For better or worse, we generally know what to expect.  We have in-built mechanisms to signal the presence of the unexpected and the absence of the expected.  

It’s the same for our experiences as customers.  I want to highlight two very recent examples in the interests of showing what is possible and what should be impossible.  Let’s start with the latter, a situation that should never be allowed to arise.Improve customer experiences

The coastline at the most south-western tip of Cornwall is stunning and so to find a bistro-cafe right on one of the glorious sunny beaches seemed like holiday-time well spent.  It wasn’t cheap but staff were friendly, the coffee was fresh and the setting was picture-perfect.  The kids insisted we went back the next day to try a different flavour of ice-cream and given the previous day’s experience, their pleas fell on receptive ears.  Except it was like a totally different place.  Some staff were the same but others were different and yet the atmosphere was decidedly rushed, we felt we were an inconvenience, the coffee was awful, staff were moaning about each other and worse, the ice-cream counter was closed for no apparent reason.  Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, what had been a little piece of heaven became – in a sense intentionally – a little piece of hell overnight.  The next day it might have been good again, who knows.   How can that happen?

Faith was then restored a few days later back at home.  To have a serious problem solved that I didn’t know I had was one thing but for it to be solved by a company I had no relationship with was another altogether.   A soft tap on the front door just as we’re heading to bed isn’t how most customer experience stories begin but such was this one.  Utility company Wales & West had been called out to a suspected gas leak in the area and in checking where gas might track, had discovered a small leak at the front of the house.  At no cost and no hassle the friendly and empathetic engineer repaired the problem quickly, kept us informed throughout and then went back to his team dealing with the original issue.

Two very different experiences but both unexpected.  One left me bewildered and frustrated, the other grateful and impressed but the lesson to us all is that both were controllable and both have a lasting, if polar opposite, impact.

 


 

 

 

 

Customer Experience – what’s your problem?

What’s your problem with customer experience? Or, to put it another way, what is it that gets in the way of designing and implementing an effective customer experience strategy?

 

Such customer experience problems were the source of much debate recently when I had the pleasure of hosting the Empathyce TakeAway event in London. There were no presentations, those who attended set the agenda; we simply had rich and highly relevant conversations around the room where everyone could ja speakingoffer their insights on addressing others’ issues and get feedback on their own.

It was interesting to see further validation that whatever the sector there is a thread of common issues. My co-host for the day was good friend and customer experience specialist Ian Golding – we were joined by people who worked in B2B and B2C (or, more accurately, P2P: People to People) from markets that included aviation, travel, property development, communications, legal services and social media. And yet there was hardly a single issue that was the preserve of only one market.

Top of the list and driving everything else was culture. Especially, the gap between how customer-centric organisations tell their stakeholders and employees they are and what they are in reality. A big part of a customer experience professional’s role is to influence where there isn’t direct authority but in an ideal world that wouldn’t need to be an issue.  Having the right culture removes the need to influence others in the organisation who either can’t or don’t want to see beyond their process, metric or product focus. It’s easier said than done, it can be a lone voice to start with but is absolutely critical to any success.

Another hot topic is the conundrum created by the tension between personalisation and digitalisation. As a consumer, we want timely and relevant information but we also don’t want it cross a line into being intrusive, noisy and over-bearing. However, as a business we can be seduced by the promises of efficiency that digitalisation, self service and big data can bring. Technology allows us to make things incredibly personal, but it must be the customer’s definition of personal, not ours.

I also can’t remember a time when breaking through internal silos and aligning everything wasn’t a concern. And yet getting people in the same company to collaborate, to understand each other and to work to the same priorities remains a significant challenge. It’s another sub-set of the culture issues; there’s no point in having a customer experience team working their socks off to champion the cause if in another part of the business teams are motivated and rewarded by the ticking of non-customer boxes.take away and maxi 026

Talking of which, measurement is always a fascinating subject. Using the right type of measurement, tracking the right thing, understanding what the results are saying and sharing them in a way that brings about the right change are all customer experience fundamentals. Again, despite all the customer-rhetoric, especially in metric and process driven organisations, there always remains the risk, often a reality, of obsessing about the number at the cost of knowing what is making the numbers what they are.

Armed with endless mugs of coffee and delicious food at the fantastic (and thoroughly recommended) Wallacespace, we continued to share experiences and views on how companies address these issues and more; the psychology of queuing and its false economy of processing efficiencies, capturing and doing something about the niggles and gripes rather than just focusing on complaints and the use of social media and gamification to nurture customer engagement.

What is your problem? The issue I’ve touched on here only scratch the surface so I’d love to hear what your most pressing customer experience challenges are or how you’ve seen others overcome.

Wherever possible I’d urge you to talk to others outside your business, outside your market.  Chances are, whatever you are dealing with someone, somewhere will have some helpful thoughts.  Forgive the plug but we’ve had some great feedback about the Take Away event so if you’re interested in attending one of the next ones there are more details here.  Ian Golding is alway worth listening to about what makes good or bad experiences, what to do next and how to make the right changes so have a look at his blog over at ijgolding.com.

 

Of course talking about it is only the beginning. The real benefits start happening and problems start disappearing only when there is action; the right action.


 

Passenger experiences and what they say to each other

Airports and the people who use them want different versions of the same thing from the passenger experience.  Whether we’re transiting through one or managing one, the common need is for it to be efficient.  But this research report into what passengers tell each other about good and bad experiences shows that the way customers define efficiency is not always the same as how airports measure it.

  • The ideal passenger experience is in airport that simply does what it’s supposed to and in a pleasant environment
  • The consequences of long queues, inadequate facilities and the wrong staff attitude are what make people use a different airport next time
  • An airport’s obsessive focus on processing efficiency risks doing the wrong things well and needing to spend resource on fixing self-inflicted problems

 

The gap between what airports think and what passengers think is a crucial one.  All the while that metrics are being collated and analysed, if they are the wrong ones, airports will be oblivious to why passengers are exercising their choices and voices.  In Barcelona last year, Andy Lester of Christchurch airport summed it up well when he talked of rebuilding after the 2011 New Zealand earthquake and observed

“If you think like an airport you’ll never understand your customers”.

We’ve seen recently a flurry of airports celebrating bigger passenger numbers and new routes with new airlines.  Yet their customers react with a sigh because many of those airports are already at or beyond passenger numbers that make going through the airport a tolerable experience.

At the risk of generalising, airports aim to get as many people through the airport as possible, as efficiently as possible.  It needs to be done in a way that means they can spend as much money as possible, come back as often as possible and tell everyone they know to do the same.  If it moves (that is either people or bags) they can barcoded, processed and measured.  How many get from A to B in as little time or at least cost becomes the primary, sometimes, sole focus.  All of which makes good operational sense, given the complexity and challenges of running an airport in a way that airlines will be confident is using.

But what are passengers concerned with and what is their version of what efficiency means?   Kiosks with red, orange and green buttons greet us everywhere to ask how the service was.  While that allows an AQS metric to be reported and tracked, there is no qualitative, actionable insight let alone allowances for mischievous kids or cleaners tapping away as they pass.  However, the travel industry is blessed with no shortage of customers willing and able to give their feedback – and that in turn creates a vast reservoir of insight not only for customers choosing an airport but for the airports to tap into themselves.

From that readily available information I’ve researched to see what customers said to each other about what makes an airport good or bad.  Using feedback on airports left at the Airline Quality / Skytrax review site I organised over 750 descriptions behind why passengers gave an airport a score of 9 or 10 (out of 10) and then 0 or 1.

Passenger experience key findings:

Where there were positive experiences, 98% of the comments can be summarised into one of two areas; either that it worked or that it was in a nice environment.  That might seem obvious, and to a large degree it is.  However, if it is so obvious then why are passengers still telling each other about cases where it’s anything but efficient?

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What is it that customers tell each other when they write about the passenger experience?

The negative experiences were more fragmented in their causes, being about the function of the airport building, how good the processes in it are, staff attitude and information.  What is clear is that a bad experience is significantly more negatively emotive than good experiences are positive. The core expectation is that everything will work as it’s meant to.  If it does, great.  But where it falls short, the consequences are commercially harmful, as typified by this message:

“I intend to avoid any lengthy stay in this airport again even if it means having to pay more to fly direct – it’s worth the price to keep your sanity”

 

In summary:

One:  55% of the reasons for a good score were simply about it being “efficient”

Airport experiences do not all have to have a Wow! factor.  First and foremost, passengers just want everything to work.  It’s a truism that without the basics in place being done well and consistently, a Wow! becomes a Waste of Work.

A noticeable number of passengers used the word “efficient” in their reviews, by which they were referring to things such as (in order of how often these were mentioned)

  • there was almost no experience, in that everything worked as it should
  • when they needed to interact with staff, the response was courteous and helpful
  • getting around the airport was easy because of good signage and easily accessible information
  • they didn’t have to wait long on arrival to collect bags and head on the next leg of their journey
  • getting to and from the airport was easy, with good connections and acceptable parking charges

 

Two:  43% of the reasons for a good score were about a nice airport environment

The most efficient, effective, high-tech and innovative processes will all have their business-case ROI ruined if the environment in which they operate makes people feel like they are being treated with contempt.  Often that happens unintentionally but if the value-exchange is one-sided, there is only so long a customer will put up with it.  Chances are they have spent a lot of time and money on this trip, they are by definition not yet where they want to be and anything that is perceived as not making their journey any easier will count against the airport.  It puts into context why people value a pleasant environment, the most common specific examples of which included:

  • shops were relevant, toilets were sufficient in number and the general facilities laid on were good
  • everywhere was kept clean and tidy
  • the layout was spacious with plenty of comfortable seating
  • the atmosphere throughout was one of calm, bright and quiet
  • good wi-fi connections were cited but this is increasingly sliding down the food-chain to be a basic expectation; its absence being more of an issue than its presence.

What do they say when the experience is a good one?  Here are some examples:

 “It’s clean. It makes you believe they are aware of their customers’ health and wellbeing”

“If you have the option to use this airport, it is a great choice”

“It never lets me down”

 

Three:  48% of the negative reasons were about the facilities

Where customers were giving airports a score of 0 or 1, the biggest gripe was that the airport couldn’t cope with the volume of passengers.  The resulting slow and uncomfortable journey through the airport creates frustration and anxiety.  It’s made worse by the fact that as passengers we not unreasonably expect airports to know exactly who is going to be in the airport each day and to be prepared.  Other consequences of the over-crowding included poor seating, a dirty and gloomy atmosphere and poor choices of food and drink.

It’s for these reasons that an airport celebrating a rise in new passenger numbers might want to acknowledge and address the concerns of existing customers at the same time.

 

Four:  28% of the negative reasons were about processes

For passengers, security, immigration and baggage handling fall into the category of processes that should just work every time. Where they do, it’s fine, but where they fall short, they can have a significant impact on influencing whether a passenger will choose that airport again.

Slow moving queues, duty free goods being confiscated in transit, poorly translated instructions and slow baggage reclaims were among the specific processes that riled customers. Again, it becomes emotive because these are all seen as avoidable inconveniences when we experience other airports who can and do get it right.

 

Five:  13% of the negative reasons were about staff

As a generally compliant travelling public (and I accept there are exceptions, such as when peanuts are served in bags), going through an airport can be a daunting experience even in the best of terminals.  The one thing we hope we can rely on is that when we need to interact with another human being there will be a mutual respect, a helping hand or at least clear instructions so we can indeed be compliant. Airports go out of their way to train staff and yet the evidence is that many are still failing.

Rude, unempathetic, incompetent, unhelpful, deliberately slow and uncaring are just some of the ways staff were described.  Any organisation is dependent on having good relationships but where one side feels they are being treated with contempt, it becomes a very deep scar to heal.

A customer wrote about their disappointing and surprising experience at one of the largest US airports where there were

“Miserable, nasty employees, barking and screaming at customers as if they were dogs”.

201

Good news – plenty of seats. Bad news – information boards positioned too far away beyond the moving walkway

 

Six:  11% of the negative reasons were about information

It’s an area airports have focused on and with a good deal of success.  Making passengers more self-sufficient and having employees being better at handling questions has benefits for all sides.  But there are still airports where having the right information at the right time in the right place is still elusive;  more specifically, passengers concerns around information was that either there was none, it was inadequate, it was wrong or it was confusing – all frustrating when we live in a world dominated by technology and information.

 

So what?  Why is it important and what does it tell us?

  1. Poor experiences make people choose other airports next time.  Passengers’ expectations are not only set by what it was like last time, but by how other airports do it and by their interactions with other companies they deal with in their day-to-day lives.  So where things don’t meet the basic expectations, not only does that impact on revenue for the airport there is also a commercial consequence for airline partners.  For example, some passengers said

“I usually fly Delta but will now try to avoid them – to avoid Atlanta”, and

“Because of this airport I will never fly Etihad again”

 

  1. Depending on which piece of research you read, anything between 75% and 95% of customers are influenced by what others say.  Any robust customer strategy will have at its core a clear vision of what the experiences need to be in order that passengers will think, feel, do and share as intended.  Many organisations now build into their customer journey mapping a stage specifically to address the “I’m sharing what it was like” issues.

 

  1. An obsession with metric-driven efficiency and processes that work for the airport’s operations team but not for passengers creates blind-spots as to what will help drive non-aeronautical revenue.  Customers themselves recognised this by saying

“All of time put aside to shop was spent queueing”, and

“They have allowed way too many people to use this place. Cannot be good for business as nobody has time to spend any money in the shops or bars”

 

Declan Collier of London City Airport reinforces the point about the dangers of process focus, task orientation and metric myopia when he talks about being “in the people business” and that the fortunes of LCY will “rise or fall on the ability of its people”.

For example, last year I questioned the fanfare for an app that tells passengers where their lost bags are.  I accept that bags go missing but as a passenger, whether I’ve a smart-phone and free hands or not, I’d prefer to have seen the investment directed to not leaving me feeling awkward and helpless standing by an empty baggage carousel.  However, I was told by a large airport hub that the rationale was that it would mean transiting passengers could run for their connection without having to worry about collecting bags that weren’t there.  I was told that yes, running is part of the expected experience and my concerns about what that is like for my confused mother or my autistic son fell on deaf ears.  I was told I don’t understand airport operations and they’re right, I don’t.  But I do understand what it’s like to be a passenger.

 

  1. The best airport experiences don’t need to be expensive, complex or high-tech.  Think what a difference just having engaged, helpful and friendly staff makes – and that doesn’t take a huge piece of capex to justify, just a degree of collaboration with employees and third parties who have the airport’s brand reputation in their hands.

 

  1. One observation in the course of the research was that the high and low scores often applied to the same airports. That has to be a concern and worthy of investigating;  why can it be done so well at times but not at others?  How come all the effort and pride can create advocates some of the time but at other times is just handing passengers to competitors?

 

Final thoughts on the airport passenger experience

These days, people do not expect a poor passenger experience.  The bar is climbing higher and in simple terms that just means doing the right things well.  Earlier this year, writer Alastair Campbell travelled through Terminal 2 and sent this tweet to his 285,000 followers:

LHR tweet

Unsurprisngly, Heathrow’s social media team proudly retweeted it to a similar number of their followers.  Within 15 minutes, this positive message was shared with well over half a million people.  And all because the experience was simply – and “amazingly” – smooth and quick.  Nothing more complicated than that.

It’s not just about giving customers the right experiences every time.  To make an airport efficient for passengers as well as managers it also needs to avoid giving the wrong experiences, ever. The commercial consequences are riding on it.

Passengers know that as well as anyone.  So if there’s one message, then it is that the airport and its brand is only as good as people tell each other it is.

 

I hope you find this report useful and interesting but email [email protected] or call me on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 if you’ve any questions or comments – I’d love to hear your views.

Thank you,

Jerry Angrave

 


The job of the customer experience manager

The need to improve customer experiences has been around since cavemen traded rocks for fish.  And as our understanding of complex customer experience issues has grown, so too have the opportunities for those moving into leadership and management roles.

Having credibility to influence change is at the heart of the job.  But in reality, it can sometimes feel like ours is a lonely customer voice at a crowded and loud business table.  Therefore to be a successful customer experience practitioner isn’t just about being good at what gets done;  it’s every bit about how it’s done too.

 

The good news is that business leaders are more empathetic.  They know the impact on customer experiences of how they think and act.  It’s important because it means they are making things better – and stopping things getting worse – for their customers and balance sheets.  Job done?  Not quite.

customer experience manager

The job of the customer experience manager

The bad news is that despite the evidence it works not everyone, sees it that way.  As a customer experience professional, we therefore need to be increasingly influential with those making the decisions.

Beneath the shiny veneer of perfect customer experience platitudes is a real world that’s arguing with itself;  relentless short-termism in one corner and profitable longevity in the other.  Sometimes, indeed often, the two protagonists are in neighbouring departments.

One CEO recently told me, in front of his team, that getting customer experience right “couldn’t be more important”.  And yet a few days later when it came to making strategic decisions, it was all about taking (not necessarily the right) costs out.  The customer’s voice was not being sought, let alone listened to.  And as a result they will continue to do the wrong things well and see managing exceptions as the norm.

It’s a stark reminder that despite the proof that improving customer experiences creates better commercial outcomes, many business people remain wedded to traditional scorecard metrics, processes and tasks.   They don’t get it, they may not want to get it or their boss won’t listen even if they do get it.

Maybe that’s our fault as customer experience professionals because our own approach has not been empathetic enough.  We believe in it passionately because it works, we just need to convince the sceptics.  It’s only part of the role, but a huge part nonetheless.  And so, from my time as both practitioner and consultant, here are ten themes that I know makes our role more effective.

  1. Hunt out your stakeholders – sounds obvious, but map the web of people (not departments) who intentionally or unintentionally make the customer experience what it is.  Whatever their level, whether they’re front-line / back-office / central support or external third parties, they should all be on your list of people you want onside.  Prioritise them, pick them off one-by-one, stay close to them and then get them collaborating with each other.
  2. Build your army – chances are you can’t bring about the right changes on your own.  You need pockets of supporters, advocates in all corners of the business who will help open doors to those stakeholders and tell you what the real challenges are.  They might spring up from the most unlikely of places but people who express an interest in what you do and why you do it are invaluable.  They’re our equivalent of finding a rare Gauguin painting at the back of the garage.  Take them under your wing and they will become the veins through which the oxygen of customer experience will flow into the business.
  3. Listen to understand – make time to understand what stakeholders see as their role in the organisation, what their objectives and challenges are and why they have the issues they do.  Observe carefully;  their most important and personal motivation is often revealed in an off-guard comment or in general conversation about the state of the nation.
  4. Make it matter to them – help them look good. Use what you hear to show specifically how better customer experiences can make their job more effective.  Show how having the right experiences can help them get a better result in their own personal and team objectives.  Give them early warning nudges over a coffee rather than surprise them in the Board Room.  Let them take the credit for being more customer-centric (your boss will know it’s you who made the difference).
  5. Map their journey – if we want to see how we fit into a customer’s world and create the right responses, we map their journeys.  Why not do the same with internal customers too?  It makes conversations much more empathetic and less adversarial.  And it’s not just about their role per se – if you are inviting them to a workshop, how can you position it and present it in a way that guarantees they turn up and contribute?
  6. Invite them in – take any opportunity to show or reinforce the customer strategy.  Have your compelling and targeted “How Customer Experience makes our business better” material handy at all times, especially in your head.  Show them customer journey mapping visuals, build a physical mock-up of a customer’s world.  Host a regular customer experience forum where you get senior people from all your stakeholder areas to share their perspectives.  Create “Customer experience for non-customer experience people sessions” to help spread the word.
  7. Make them empathetic – use real warts-and-all feedback to show them what it’s like to be on the receiving end of what they do.  Remind them that they are a consumer in their own lives.  Get them to think like a customer.  Ask them how the experiences they deliver compare with other organisations in other markets they deal with.  After all, those are the ones pushing the bar of our customers’ expectations ever higher.

    Find ways to help them help themselves

  8. Talk their language – keep it commercial.  Relate using the vocabulary of what matters to them.  Link customer experience to revenue, costs, efficiency, loyalty and margins.  And despite the fanfare around the subject, don’t start the engagement of a sceptical, process-focused but key stakeholder with “Can I talk to you about customer emotions?”.  Eyes will roll and you’ll lose them before you begin.  You know how emotions fit in the bigger picture so that can come later.  Much better to say something like “I’d appreciate your thoughts on how what we do now drives what our customers do next time”.
  9. Lead by example – be proactive and be responsive. Get a reputation for having the clearest, most unambiguous emails and reports. Little things go a long way – always turn up for meetings on time, keep promises, return calls and show an interest.  I’m indebted to David Hicks of Mulberry Consulting for a great example – my answerphone message promises to call back asap but “certainly within 3 hours”.
  10. Keep the momentum going – stay on the look-out for quick wins and use them as proof of concept.  Provide updates, share successes and relay stories of what others in other markets are doing.  Be the one to create an engaging company-wide forum focused purely on customers.  And invite yourself to talk with colleagues around the business at their team meetings.

 

There will be more ways so it will be great to hear what you think.  How do you influence and manage your customer experience stakeholders?

One last thought.  To see people, attitudes and companies change for the better as a result of what you have done can be the most rewarding job in the world.  In fact, it then no longer becomes a job.  So stay true to what you believe.  Expect progress to be slow but up the ante by planning to be quick.  Whatever happens though – and I thank Churchill for his words of wisdom – Never give up. Never give up. Never ever give up.

 

Jerry Angrave

Certified Customer Experience Professional – a practitioner and consultant on the strategic and tactical ways to help organisations improve their customer experiences

 

 

 

 

 

Customer experience without trust is costly

The new challengers in the energy market must be thanking the so-called “Big 6” for making their job easier.  A report just out by Which? shows the polar extremes of customer satisfaction, much of it driven by trust.

On the satisfaction scores, the smaller companies such as Ecotricity, Ovo and Good Energy are over 80%.  With nPower at 35% and Scottish Power at 41% none of the larger legacy retailers nudge above 50%.

Making matters worse for them, less than 20% of customers trust their suppliers.

Why can one group get it so wrong and others get it right?  Only the internal workings of change programmes with workstreams that don’t talk to each other, customer impacts seen at best as an afterthought and metric obsessed planning meetings can answer that.  But while companies like nPower are working hard to hang on to  what they’ve got, the challengers are welcoming new customers in with open arms.

It may be their way of thinking.  If those who run the Big 6 think and act like an energy company they may be missing the point.  Ovo Energy for example has a culture where they are a tech company, a retailer and then an energy supplier.  Subtle, but huge differences.

And what do we mean by trust?  As in any thriving relationship it’s emotive and essential.  Where one party shows contempt, whether perceived or real, the damage is often irreversible.

So little things add up. Making what should be simple enquiries or transactions difficult have consequences. Customers want their questions answered when they call in, not to find they’ve been routed through to the wrong department by an overly-eager IVR.  They want agents to call them back when they said they would and they want to be able to understand their tariffs and bills.  Business customers have different needs from residential yet a lack of empathy is all too often apparent.

Getting the employee experience is vital here too.  If they’re not proud to be delivering the customer experiences they are asked to, the lack of connection shows.  I’ve spent time with one of these companies where employees said they would rather make something up than tell people where they worked.

Reports like this latest update from Which? show the trend of shifting to new players continues. But it’s been doing that for some time and little seems to be changing.  Maybe we should change their label to the “Running out of energy 6”.


 

Customer experience and lawyers

United Airlines threw a new perspective into the debate about where responsibility for customer experience sits when it handed accountability to its General Counsel.

 

In an unusual move, United has brought customer experience and lawyers together by putting its General Counsel in charge (reported by Gary Leff).   The airline has a habit of being in the media for its unharmonious relationships with guitar playing customers, monks and even its own employees.   To pull the airline off the bottom of the customer satisfaction tables and into a position where customers rave rather than rant certainly needs drastic action.  Customer experience and lawyers under the same wing – a piece of corporate brilliance and a shrewd commercial move or a temporary holding position for an internal hot potato that nobody wants to catch?Customer experience and lawyers

True, the role of GCs and their teams is changing as the stakes have become higher. The economic turmoil of recent years coupled with increased regulatory demands has turned up the volume of the legal voice in the Board Room.  Their plate is already overflowing with the need to advise and keep the business ethical so should that also include managing customers’ experiences?  Like every other part of the company, Legal needs to have input and be kept informed.  At a practical level though, legal teams may not be closest to customers on a day-to-day basis and therefore best qualified to determine the nuances of what it should be like to be a customer.

I’ve seen companies who have the same director in charge of IT and Marketing.  Operations directors often pick up the customer experience reporting lines, as do those leading the Marketing  agendas.  Where silos exist and presumably more oversight is seen as a motivator for greater collaboration, many businesses also make one functional director accountable for the customer experience in another unrelated function.  The legal, risk and compliance teams already have a big say in how things are run, for sound commercial reasons.  At the other extreme though, having such a specialism in charge of customer experience creates a perception that it’s necessary because the experiences are so awful that the legal team are going to be integral to it anyway.

Whose role is it?  In this case, only United can answer that.  It’s a question we shouldn’t have to ask though.  Customer experience – doing the right combination of things for customers and the balance sheet – is what a business is about.  It’s a way of thinking and collaborating, it’s not an agenda item on one person’s monthly report back to the Board.  But if no one else will pick it up, maybe an empathetic and disciplined legal team are as good as any to run with it.

 

Did City Link’s customer reviews predict failure?

Customer experience reviews are a rich source of information for companies wanting to improve.  They also contain vital signals for companies needing to survive.

On Christmas Eve, the UK parcel courier City Link delivered itself into administration.  A few days later on New Year’s Eve, the absence of anyone wishing to pay the right price to pick up the pieces dealt the final blow.  The company collapsed and took with it the jobs of over 2,300 people.  Timing – whether delivering parcels or news – would sadly not appear to be one of their strong points.

Being aware of the changing environment is key to survival

Being aware of the changing environment is key to survival

Could they have seen it coming?  Maybe they did, but it sends a message to other companies that the early warning signs of trouble and what needs to change are not hidden away in an elusive, impenetrable vault.   Customers themselves are a reliable barometer of the pressure a business is under.  A quick look back at City Link’s customer reviews in the months and weeks leading up to the company’s failure should have set alarm bells ringing far beyond learning about niggles and gripes.

Take what was being said on Trustpilot for example.  There, just under 1,300 customers have taken the time and trouble to share their thoughts.  69% of them gave a 1-star rating;  22% gave 5 stars.  So while some things were being done right, there was clearly a dangerous groundswell of very unhappy customers.

Scores are one thing;  more telling is the level of negative emotion that customers talked about.  Over two-thirds of their customer reviews were not just people with a complaint;  the depth of emotion about their experience was raw and they made sure other customers knew about it.  Other review sites are available but if you want to read what customers said on Trustpilot about being on the receiving end of the wrong customer experiences, click here.

In short, the problem was not that customers felt underwhelmed by the lack of any “wow” experiences.  Of greater concern was the lack of basic expectations – unmet promises, conflicting information and being treated with contempt by rude staff.  Things that are arguably not hugely expensive to put right, but all of which created a lack of trust and customers warning other customers not to use them.

City Link was owned by a private equity firm who will have had a clear idea of what they wanted in return for their investment.  It’s not my money that’s at stake so I’m not in a position to pass comment on the business decisions and focus.  But, those reporting on the collapse cite operational efficiencies and intense competition as key reasons for the demise.  And while neither issue is insignificant it will be rare to find a business that doesn’t share the same challenges.  Worse still, customers have been shouting about the solutions from the pages of review sites.

I’m privileged to work with a variety of organisations across a variety of markets and countries.  It’s also my job to learn from others who are pushing the bar higher or dragging the bar up to where it needs to be to survive.  I see three factors that are common in many cases, and with City Link here too.  One: detail. People talk about surprise and delight, exceeding expectations.  Nice idea, but “WOW” stands for a complete Waste of Work and cost if the basics are not in place.  Two:  consistency.  Those basics need to work time after time, whoever, wherever and however the experience is being delivered.  Three: listen.  Customers are saying what can, and needs to, improve.

So as we finish our reflections on last year and head into the new full of ambition, maybe first up on our 2015 to-do list is to make sure we’re listening properly and acting on the right things that will ensure there is a business for customers and employees to come back to.

 


 

 

Assessing the shape of customer experiences

To assess customer experiences is to embark on a complex but profitable journey.  The desire to make improvements is compelling and yet the starting point and finish line are not always obvious.  The Customer Experience Triangle concept has been designed to help shape the thinking that makes planning easier and direction clearer.

 

Is your Customer Experience Triangle a perfect 10-10-10?

Whatever the customer experience, it can be deconstructed into three key, interdependent components:  functionality, accessibility and emotion.  Three simple dimensions to quickly assess how good – or not – an experience is.

As customers, we do this subconsciously when we do business with a company;  it’s important because the result affects whether we’ll do the same again.

As customer experience professionals, it’s a powerful way to understand how well we do the things that are most important to our customers and our business. It then becomes a structured and visual way of thinking about where the priorities, investment and resource should be focused next.

The three elements are inextricably linked.  In other words,

  • Functional: was the customer able to do what they needed to do?
  • Accessibility: how easy was it?
  • Emotion: how did it make them feel?

Fellow CCXP and Custerian colleague Ian Golding writes excellent customer experience reviews using this as the basis – do make time to check him out at ijgolding.com.  The premise is that the whole experience is a combination of the three elements.  It might look something like this, where the sweet spot is in the middle.

Customer experience evaluate

 

If we take the concept a stage further it becomes a very useful tool to assess how well we do the things that really matter – and therefore show where the focus for what to do next lies.  To assess each element in its own right and against the other two, we can use another simple visualistion of the same three dimensions.

 

Customer experience evaluate

 

By giving each element a score, the customer experience starts to take shape.  We, our colleagues, customers and stakeholders will all have a view.  Indeed, customers surveys are finding answers to these questions more useful than surveys that have metric-focused outputs.  The scale, radiating out from the centre, can be whatever works for your business, but may for example be

  • Functional:  1 (not as expected)  >  5 (as expected)  >  10 (better than expected)
  • Accessibility:  1 (huge effort)  >  5 (ok) >  10 (very easy)
  • Emotion:   1 (Angry)  >  5 (satisfied)  >  10 (elated)

The best result is when the shape is the largest, equilateral triangle possible:  10 out of 10 for each. That means that none of the critical dimensions can be improved upon.  If it’s anything smaller or skewed, we have a clear visualisation of where there is room for improvement.  Here are some examples, with what customers might say and what might be done:

Customer experience assessment

 

The Customer Experience Triangle TM concept can be overlaid with a metric to track the progress of improvement activity over time.  In reporting schedules, it holds people to account for change.  Rather than sharing one generic headline number around the organisation, a score of say 3-7-5 (for function – ease – emotion respectively), immediately points to areas that are in need of improvement.

However, the real value in this approach is in organising the thinking and in the visualisation of what to do next.  Without using it to drive change, it will be just a vanity project.  In the same way, a score is a nice-to-have but that’s not the ultimate goal – as I always say, get the experience right first and the score will take care of itself.

So as a new year looms over the horizon I hope this gives you some food for thought about how to get your customer experiences in shape for 2015.  The perfect 10-10-10?

 

(The Customer Experience Triangle is subject to Trademark and Copyright,  Jerry Angrave, UK, 2014)


 

 

 

Customer experience in the boardroom

Corporate change leads investors to rethink the potential for future income streams.  But, by putting customer experience in the boardroom, can it improve that decision-making process?

 

This week has seen some significant corporate activity in the UK.  BT is making a play for the mobile market by talking to O2 about a return to its fold;  Harriet Green made a surprise departure from Thomas Cook that sent its shares tumbling;  And the East Coast Mainline rail franchise is coming out of public hands and into a combined Stagecoach and Virgin operator.

To make sense of these moves, we generally look to the stockmarket to see whether it’s good news or not.  Fund managers crawl through a jigsaw of balance sheets, management profiles and annual reports to predict how this latest change will affect a company’s future cash flows, profitability and dividends.  Within seconds, the outcome of that opinion is reflected in the share prices of those directly – and indirectly – involved.

There is though, a missing piece in that jigsaw and a critical one at that.  I would say this wouldn’t I, but it’s the opinion of the customer. Why?  A couple of reasons jump out.

Firstly, it is the customer who is going to be handing over the money that creates the revenue that underpins the profit that delivers the dividend.  They can answer some very telling questions: How will these changes affect what they do? What else has it prompted them to share with others that will influence a wider audience?  Why do they have the perception (whether rational or not)  they do?

The answers to many of those questions arguably must provide a better forecast of a company’s future value.  At the very least, an indication of what is going on at that front-line of that company.  Or, early warning signs that having the strongest of capital ratios doesn’t necessarily mean that customers will come, come back, spend more and tell everyone they know to do the same.  Here’s some examples of reactions this week; they have been selected to illustrate the point about underlying issues but have all been in the public domain.

 

BT and O2

 

That last line about changing provider sums up the issue nicely.  Investors might be seeking the short-term profit but customers play the long-game, the implication being that investors will eventually lose as customers do have a choice.  Two interdependent but not always aligned views.

 

 

Stagecoach Vigin win east coast mainline

 

The EastCoast rail franchise focus has been on the winners, yet other operators who were unsuccessful also get caught up in the conversations.

 

 

Thomas Cook

 

Secondly, these key stakeholders can just as easily be shareholders either directly or by association. They are just as informed, just as quick to pass judgement and, at the end of the day, are the ones who will determine whether the stockmarket called it correctly.

 

Investors are in the business of forecasting the future.  So should they be better at listening to customers as if they were in the boardroom?  Should they seek greater reinforcement or challenge to their investment decisions from the very people who will deal in reality, not predictions?

 


 

 

Improving customer experiences: when WOW! stands for Waste Of Work

In seeking a point of differentiation, the creation of a Wow! moment in the customer experience is an admirable strategy.  But whatever makes us say “Wow!”, what is more likely to be the differentiator is all the basics being done well and consistently.

 

The reasons why we as consumers switch between companies is rarely because of the absence of anything that “delights and surprises” us.  It’s much more likely to be because of smaller things, the cumulative impact of niggles and gripes that we expect to be done right.10434205_s
It’s easy to see why organisations are seduced into the idea of creating powerful emotional connections;  ones that that drive memories to keep customers coming back, spending more and telling everyone they know to do the same.  However, Wow! moments are not an automatic ticket to differentiation.

 

For example, when travelling through an airport, my research shows that people simply want them to be clean, friendly, easy and calm.  Only then will we start to worry about self-drop baggage check-ins and architectural aesthestics.  Travelling by train, I just want somewhere to park my car, somewhere to park my backside and some wi-fi.  Pouring billions of pounds into taking 10 minutes off the journey can wait.

 

So one – or even several – Wow! moments doth not a customer experience make.  Especially, when focusing on the emotive aspects comes at the cost of being functional or easy.  Often it’s because companies use technology for technology’s sake; there are personal agendas at work or there is an obsession with process efficacy and metrics.  The telecoms company I’m with recently provided a perfect example.

 

I’ve been a customer of theirs for years.  I really like them and their people. They create “fans”, sponsor major events and have an edgy but professional brand. It works and so I rarely have anything contact with them.  Except in the last two days, where I had two different experiences, both of which made me say “Wow!” but for the wrong reasons, based on a lack of the basics.

 

Firstly, out of contract I wanted to see what my options were before I look around for a new handset and tariff.  On their website, in the phones and tariffs page there is – hidden, well down the page – a “How to buy” number. In the IVR I’m asked for my number and whether or not I’m an existing customer wanting to upgrade.  I am, so assume I’m through to the right place.  Nope.  When I’m connected the agent fumbles around and has to pass me to the “new sales” team.

effort

All I then hear is the noise of a busy office – people chatting loudly to customers and to each other.  Eventually, I hear a timid “Hello?”.  I make my presence known and the agent launches into the prepared script as if that was a perfectly normal way to start.  I go through the request again and ask what the tariffs are for a particular handset.  There’s a long pause, the sound of keyboards being tapped and then I get a confusing deluge of text, megabite and minute options.  I ask the difference between two different handsets.  More clicking and rambling answers.

 

I’m asked if my account with them really is out of contract.  I thought if anyone should know, they should.  To be certain, he gives me a number to text a keyword to.  We wait with baited breath for a message to come back.  “You ain’t got nuthin’ yet?  Oh, you need to write the keyword in capitals, sorry”.  I try again and again I get nothing back. We struggle on but when he asks if I can call back in 15 minutes my patience runs out.

 

I know this particular company can do better, a lot better.  We rate customer experiences on three dimensions;  how easy was it, did it do what I set out to achieve and how did it make me feel.  On none of those levels did the company score well at all, the effort amplified by the fact that it should have been so easy.

 

The next day, coincidentally or not, I received an invitation from them to become part of a customer panel. “Help define our future, we want your thoughts on how we can work better for you” and so on.  It’s nice to be asked, so I clicked the email link to join. I get taken to a pre-qualification web page.  Am I male/female? Date of birth? Which region/postcode do I live in?  All of which they know already, surely. Then I’m asked my household income and nature of my business.  Having gone through all that I then get a message pop up to say they already have too many people like me so they don’t need my views:
response
What a waste of everyone’s time, it didn’t make me feel particularly warm to the brand and I’m curious as to why they would push away someone who is happy to help them. Such is life.
 
I wish those in the board room who sign-off the high-cost Wow! investments that few are asking for could experience the customer journey of the low-cost, invaluable basics being done badly for so many.  These are basic expectations, the bar of which is rising faster than the bar of Wow! expectations.  The irony is that a customer experience with all the basics in place, done well time after time creates more differentiation, more loyalty and itself becomes the “Wow!”.

 

Jerry Angrave
Founder, Empathyce
+44 (0) 7917 718 072
@Empathyce

Are we talking the right language of customer experience?

Many customer experiences simply happen because when it comes to the attitude and processes, we hear people say “We’ve always done it this way”.  And if it works today, why not?  Well, for a start things could be so much better.  Maybe – and I’ve often seen – things aren’t actually working in the way your customers want.  The consequences of complacency are huge yet that word rarely, if ever, makes an appearance on the “risks and issues” log.

There’s an equally risky parallel in the language of customer experience; the risk being that we have all adopted the phrases and platitudes over time to the extent where if we’re all thinking the same way, having the right and differentiated customer experiences will be so much harder to achieve.  I’ve written before on the need for differentiated experiences from differentiated thinking.

For example, in a workshop where you have people from Operations, Marketing, Sales, Finance and Legal teams, many of them will be seeing this stuff for the first time.  They might be cynical, they might be enthusiastic but they need to hear and understand with absolute clarity the words being used.  Here are some examples, with some suggestions where the vocabulary could be different in order to get people in the right mind-set to bring about better outcomes. They’re not going to become mainstream and you will have your own thoughts, but the idea is to avoid the risk of undifferentiated stakeholder experiences because the language being used internally is itself undifferentiated

 

Customer Experience or Customer Memorylanguage of customer experience

To talk about “experiences” has become commonplace and inevitably perhaps, it is diluted in its impact.  To those keen to pile in, it suggests that our focus should be mostly just on the “what happens”.  Our thinking becomes limited to the very functional aspects of what we do because that’s the tangible bit.  Yet we know that what affects the likelihood of someone coming back to us next time, spending more more often and telling everyone else, is what they recall when they’re about to do that – their memory about how easy it was and how it made them feel.  Another post looks at that “customer memory” in more depth.

 

We need a customer journey map for that! or We need a customer story for that!

This often-heard comment in meetings is followed by someone retrieving a linear process map to use as what they see as an acceptable alternative.

To create a customer journey still implies a simple A-B set of interactions but the very use of the word “journey” still suggests a functional, linear approach.  What we need to know and create is the story that a customer will tell someone else.  We’re all people, we’re all customers;  when we do business with a company or go to a restaurant we don’t consciously set out to go on a “journey” but what we then think and talk about in terms of what it was like becomes very much a story.

 

The end-to-end journey or From last time to this time to next time

Having an end-to-end journey helps fit with the logical side of our thinking.  Conveniently, it also fits the left to right concept that is perpetuated by PowerPoint and Excel.  I’m guilty, I’ve created loads in my time but it still is not reflective of how our customers – or us when we’re going about our daily lives – really think about things.  Maybe we need a pyschologist to really create accurate representations of what it’s like to be a customer.  But while I’m all for keeping things simple, end-to-end still suggests a definitive start and finish point.  If we really want to understand our customers then we need to think way beyond those boundaries.

 

The voice of the customer or What people think

Talk to a room of people about the “voice of the customer” and there are sage nods and chatter about feedback surveys.  Again though, it risks limiting the understanding of what we’re really driving at here. It’s not just about hearing what our customers are saying, it’s about understanding why people think and feel the way they do.  It’s also not just about sharing what customers think, it’s very much about our own employees too.  After all they are the ones who are making the the experience what it is and are often the ones who know what to fix. However, no-one has listened to them or has acted on what they said because business leaders are focused solely on turning the “voice of the customer” into a higher net promoter score.

 

I have the privilege of working across a variety of markets with talented people in all sorts of organisations and with an infinite number of challenges.  One common theme though, especially when people are going on their own personal journey of customer experience familiarity is that the language becomes a proxy for leadership of the customer agenda.  Giving it the clarity and relevance it deserves, thinking about it differently to your competitors who are reading text-books and listening to career consultants will give you the differentiation your organisation needs.

 

 

 

 

Will thinking like a retailer improve customer experiences?

“We need to think like a retailer”.   Really?

In listening to those who are looking to improve customer experiences, I’ve heard two very different opinions from the aviation industry this year on where the aspirations lie.   The airline: “We should think like a retailer who happens to run a fleet of aircraft”.   The airport:  “If you think like an airport you’ll never really understand your customers”.   As a passenger, I know which way of thinking I’d rather be on the receiving end of.024

To those organisations in any industry who aspire to think like a retailer (code for “sell more”), I have a suggestion.  Why stop there?  Why not have the aspiration to make your customer experiences so easy, consistent and cost-effective that it is the retailers who are the ones who look to you and say “We need to think like them”?

One of the biggest challenges we see in creating a truly customer-focused business is the lack of clarity among employees about the overall strategy.  Or, a brand that creates expectations but then has little robust structure to deliver what it promises.  Whatever market we operate in, an aspiration to improve is of course admirable.  But we need confidence in our own business model.  Surely, we don’t want to give our employees the impression that we don’t back ourselves so we’re going to act like someone else.  That message, intended or not, isn’t what will drive the right behaviours and engagement.

It’s a similar risk with searching for and emulating best practices carried out by competitors.  In reality, it’s never that straightforward but if we replicate what they are good at we will, by definition, only be the same as them.  And in today’s world, we need to be different and distinctive.  The bar of expectations is rising relentlessly so yesterday’s best practice quickly becomes today’s norm.  And it’s not always about the “Wow” moments – getting every basic element right every time is, for sure, a best practice that others will aspire too.

I hear a lot about the need to think like a retailer and I applaud the intent.  Retailers have some great experiences but they have a lot of very average ones too.  Yes, they sell stuff and most organisations are looking for ways to increase revenues.  But I’m still firmly of the view that while we can learn from others, it is critical to aspire to get the customer experience right for our own business first.  In doing so, we then become the one that everyone else looks to as the role model.

 

Customer Experience: blink and it’s there.

First impressions.  The subtle, vital but often over-looked human gateway to achieving corporate objectives such as long-term customer relationships and profitable lifetime value.

For many, the starting point for mapping customer journeys conveniently begins at the first ‘touchpoint’;  the call centre or website visit where funnily enough, processes also start.  The very language suggests a physical contact has to be the trigger and yet getting to that point is highly likely to be the consequence of what a customer has seen or heard in the past from others’ experiences.firstimpression

Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink – the power of thinking without thinking” is a rich seam of though-provoking insight into which any self-respecting decision-maker and leader should tap.  It articulates the world of instinctive reactions;  the crucial sub-conscious responses we make every day yet we are unable to explain how we do it.

What does it mean for improving customer experiences?  I’d say it’s about upping the ante before competitors do;  treat every interaction as if it’s the one that creates the first, the most important and longest lasting impression.

 

1  A relationship over the long-term can be over in milliseconds

Organisations strive to build lasting and profitable relationships by investing finite budget in retention activity, loyalty rewards and referrals.  But it is that gut instinct, that very subjective and emotive feeling created in a flash of a chemical impulse that shapes the memory to which the rational side of the brain will turn next time there is business to be done.

Take, for example, Twitter.  Yesterday, a Marketing agency I followed published a tweet pouring scorn on a family-favourite TV chef.  No reason, just “We’ve never liked him”.  My reaction, deciding to unfollow, was over before I’d realised it.  Tap and gone.  I’d given it no conscious thought;  in hindsight there was just something about it that wasn’t professional and in today’s world that’s simply not tolerable.

 

2  Contempt is in the eye of the beholder

No company in its right mind would set out to show a customer contempt, the consequences being all too obvious.  However, that is exactly what happens when customer experiences are left unchecked, processes take priority over people and metrics matter the most.

To précis the research from Malcolm Gladwell’s book, a large study of conversations between married couples was undertaken in order to try and predict the likelihood of the relationship surviving.  The most striking common denominator among those that ended in divorce was the presence of contempt, whether unintended or not.

This again shows the need to keep a focus on the little, subtle things, without which the ‘WoW’ factors are a “Waste of Work”.  Contempt is something that’s felt and attacks the very core of our own values.  Whether it’s unintended or not, whether those in the Board room know it or not, if I pay for a meal at a decent restaurant and the waiter shows no sign of thanks or even eye contact, that to me might be a sign of contempt.  Note to self: not going there again.  I might treat myself and pay extra for a first-class rail ticket.  But when there’s standing room only or no wi-fi, my note to self says: drive the car next time.  I order an item online accepting that it’s “due in stock by the end of the month”, only to find that it never was due and there’s no knowing when it will be in, yet my money is paid.  Note to self: get a refund and never go back there.

If we are serious about developing long-term relationships, then the conversations around the Board table need to be every bit about how we make our customers feel as about what we do.  Because if we don’t, in the time it takes to blink our customer will be gone.

 

Differentiated customer experiences require differentiated thinking

Organisations waste time, money and effort if their approach to creating differentiated experiences is based on the very undifferentiated “Let’s walk a mile in our customers’ shoes”.   Inspiration for better and more valuable experiences comes from those who experience things differently.


 

When teams set out to map customer journeys there’s often a familiar reminder of the need to “Put ourselves in our customers’ shoes”.  Assuming that the journey being mapped is a strategic priority and there is an ability to act on the findings, it’s a concept that’s logical and, to a degree, works.

However, that very familiarity is also its Achilles heel.  If we and our competitors are looking at things in the same way, the chances of creating differentiated experiences with undifferentiated thinking are not looking good.  In the journey mapping workshop, everyone nods and agrees that it’s the right thing to do but exactly what it means and why it’s important can get lost in the enthusiasm of being away from the day-job and amid the swarm of post-it notes.WallaceSpace

It’s all good and valid work, but it’s highly likely to produce a sanitised and generic version of the journey.  Putting ourselves in customers’ proverbial shoes cannot tell us what our customers think when they are in their own shoes;  however hard we try, it will still be us pretending to be them.

Even if we create a perfect vision of what the journey should be, by starting with us as a proxy for the customer, by the time any innovation has found its way through the corporate filters of business cases, project scope alignment and demands for “What’s the ROI?”, what were great ideas become diluted.  Had the vision been a little more ambitious and creative to start with, our diluted outcome would be stronger for it.

And so for those who want to take things a step further the approach needs to be stretched.  When we learn to negotiate, if it’s for a 5% budget increase we will probably try starting with +8%.  Swimmers train with weight-belts, motor-cyclists are taught to stay focused on the vanishing point of the road and not to stare at the front tyre.  It’s that thing about reaching the moon by shooting for the stars.

There is one group of people to whom we can turn to for inspiration in so many ways, including here.  They are ordinary human beings who live with some kind of mental or physical condition that we tend to label as having a disability or special needs.

In the UK, over eleven million people have a limiting long-term illness or an impairment of some kind according to the Government. It’s not unreasonable to assume that each of those individuals has at least two people who have been through the emotional highs and lows with them and sacrifice a lot to help them get through their daily lives.  Even if we rounded the numbers and said that 30 million people – nearly half the UK population – are affected, the chances are that we all have such customers. Next time you think a customer is over-reacting to not getting a call back as promised, it might be because they’ve been up all night trying to calm an apoplectic 12-year old who is unable to talk and explain what the problem is.

To help those mapping out customer journeys, adopting the persona of a typical customer type is a step in the right direction.  But, by seeing things from the perspective of someone who interacts with the world in a very different way, it can really sharpen up the process.  Take, for example, a team who wants to make the airport experience better.

The type of hand-drier in the toilets might not seem to be a particular issue.  But for someone with autism, hyper-sensitive emotions and a need for predictability, loud and sudden noises created by the blast from the current wave of dip-your-hand-in driers can at best be deeply distressing.  Creating a situation where your customers run among other customers, screaming and with their hands over their ears is, I’m sure, not an intentional experience. But there’s also a financial impact;  I know people who avoid one major airport for that very reason.

Addressing that particular issue also creates a calmer environment for everyone, something that is high on the list of unprompted things that passengers of all abilities value. Those anxious people who go on a fear of flying course do so because they thought it was the flight, not the airport, that would be stressful.differentiated

Many companies will proclaim they want to make things easy for their customers.  And people will quietly tolerate the niggles of call-centre on-hold messages or staff who close up their shop five minutes before time.  If we’re journey mapping by putting ourselves in our customers’ shoes, those are things we might not be bothered by and so we unintentionally assume our customers won’t either. But, look at it from the perspective of someone with depression, who has taken days if not weeks to build up the courage and mental energy to call only to be told to wait even longer;  the stroke sufferer who wants to ask a simple question but has problems speaking and being understood.  Or, the parent who can’t remember the last night of unbroken sleep, when they last woke up without being woken up and what life was like before washing bedroom walls became a daily task.  Many employees in a call-centre or retail space may not have had the life-experience of interacting with people for whom living independently – or living at all – is a major achievement.  Surely if we made things easy for them, everyone else benefits too.

Another example.  A common gripe is the ability to understand the bills we get, especially from utilities. I was with an energy-company client recently listening to customer calls and had to stifle a chuckle when the exasperated customer declared “I’ve a master’s degree in physics but I don’t understand this bill”.  Imagine then, what it is like if you have any kind of mental disability or a condition such as dyslexia.

Likewise, if a toy gets delivered and it’s the wrong one, do we assume that people will see it as a minor inconvenience and so we’ll be ready when they call up for a replacement.  Or, because we acknowledge that a parent or carer might have to explain that to a distraught child using Makaton sign-language, we fix the process that causes the problem in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many companies doing small and discrete things that make a big difference.  To provide a balance, Manchester airport publishes a guide specifically for those with disabilities and their carers; Birmingham airport has staff who will recognise signs in body language that suggest something is not right and they’re trained to do something about it. Monarch is replicating the London 2012 Games Makers training for its staff.

There are altruistic and – because of the world we live in – commercial reasons for taking this approach.  But, if we stretch our customer thinking in a different way to our competitors and we design journeys around real people, not the processes we force them through, empathy and ease translates smoothly into a better business for everyone concerned.

Thank you, let me know what you think.  And if you’re interested in helping to improve customer experiences for people with special needs, please join my group over on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Improving-Customer-Experiences-People-Special-4583395/about.

 

 

Creating the right customer experience is all about leading by example

To have any credibility when talking with others about how “customer experience” can improve a business, it’s an obvious understatement to say that leading by example – understanding their issues and what they value – is imperative.

And so hosting an event on the subject, quite rightly, sets the bar of expectations very high.

That’s the position Ian Golding and I were in this week in London when we held Custerian’s seminar on “Your journey to map their journey”.  In its simplest form, the aim is to share our knowledge about the strategic, operational and tactical side of customer experience so that attendees know what to do next, why and how in order to bring about quick but lasting change.

We always say that the right customer experiences and obsessive attention to the basics helps create the holy grail of differentiation – it was time to put our money where our mouth is and do things a little bit differently.WallaceSpace

In the week leading up to the seminar, I spoke with each delegate individually.  I wanted to understand more about their motivations for attending, why now was the right time, what their challenges were and what they wanted out of the day.  It meant that the seminar would only cover relevant ground.

A similar discussion happens in the weeks after the seminar;  I speak to, or visit, everyone who attended (with their teams if it’s appropriate) and talk about how they are getting on implementing what they learnt within their organisation.

But for the day itself, the last thing we wanted was a “turn up and be talked at” windowless conference in the bowels of an obscure hotel somewhere.  We’ve all been there and we all don’t like it.

Our location of choice was WallaceSpace in Covent Garden.  It’s an old chandelier factory but has been turned into the most fantastic venue – light and airy, calm but funky, relaxed but professional.  We could have found somewhere else, but our basic expectations are for a good environment in which people can learn and be thought-provoking.  Windows, fresh coffee, an energetic vibe, sofas for break-out sessions and friendly staff are not much to ask but are a lot to be without.  If they did an NPS survey on our delegates and us, they’d be getting 9s and 10s.me talking

At a pace everyone was comfortable with, we explored the Why, What and How of mapping customer journeys.  Why is customer experience important to a business strategy?  Attendees were shown the consequences of having – and not having – prioritised activity based on creating a clear line of sight from what the customer experience should be, though the customer strategy, brand strategy, business objectives and to the reason the business exists in the first place.

What do we do next? The middle section was the nuts and bolts of journey mapping; about proven methods, robust frameworks and reliable measurement to give fact-based insights about what needs changing.  And the final piece, How do we make change happen? looked at how to be organised with the right governance structure and examples of how companies are working internally to bring their customer experiences to life.

Yes, I’m blowing our own trumpet a little but it’s coming from a position of genuine pride in how we do what we do and not sales-led arrogance.  The feedback we had plays a better tune anyway, and so here are some of the comments (and not just because of the moleskin notepad and sweets we provided!)

“Enthused. Educated in a practical approach”  SD

“Excited to go back to base and spread the word”  RS

“Informative and a clear, concise strategy and framework on how to map the customer journey and the importance and benefits of doing so”  HT

“Content – spot on. Learned some great tips & techniques to help me embark on my own journey”  DH

“Felt inspired by the knowledge shared. Allowed me to think about the bigger picture and generate ideas”  GF

 

Did we lead by example? Well, these comments suggest we got a lot of things right but we’re also very aware that there’s always room for improvement as that bar of expectations edges ever higher.  The proof will be in the way of thinking and in the ability of these customer experience practitioners to go back to their office and understand the journeys they themselves and their company are on;  to understand the journey their customers and colleagues are on and then to talk with authority and credibility within and across functions to bring about the change their organisation needs.

And not least, there’s a huge opportunity to be recognised as the one who is the catalyst for creating greater value from having the right customer focus; not a bad conversation to have in the year-end performance reviews.

We’ll be running the seminar programme again soon so tell us if it’s something you’d be interested in.  But also let us know what you think about the best and worst events you’ve attended and why. It will be great to hear your thoughts on leading by example.

Jerry

+44 (0) 7917 718 072

www.empathyce.com

 

For improving customer experiences I’d rather have Right Data than Big Data

On my first day of my first proper job in the UK they called me “New York”.  Not because I was energetic, intriguing or that I never slept but because, when it took me a while to understand what was apparently an hilarious corporate joke, I was – in their words – “five hours behind”.

And many (very many) years later, so it seemed with my understanding of what has been given the label of Big Data.  I see it written about everywhere, something that self-proclaimed experts talk of as the latest critical key to a sustainable business.  However, I seemed to have missed the briefing about what exactly it was and why it was apparently so vital to our future existence.  The cynic in me was muttering about new clothes and Emperors but also part of me didn’t want to miss out, just in case…

Recently then, I was looking forward to catching up with the rest of the world and be able to converse like an insider when it comes to the subject of big data.  Within the space of a week, I had the privilege of chairing a retail analytics event in London and speaking at a conference in Barcelona on creating efficient airports through a focus on customer experience.

What was clear from both is an insatiable appetite for more data.  What is less clear is whether the ability to capture and analyse more and more information is generating the contextual knowledge that businesses need to bring about the change their own business plans demand.

Never before have we had this amount of information available at our fingertips.  True, it means that where once we relied on modelling and forecasting from a small amount of transactional data, we can now reduce the risk by removing the need for so many assumptions.  But does that automatically mean we have the right knowledge to support our business and customer strategy?

For airports, efficiency is everything but that can come dangerously close to putting passengers’ real needs in the blind spot.  Research I’ve carried out shows that customers in an airport put cleanliness, friendly staff and clear signage at the top of the list of the things they value. And yet, they rarely make it to the Exec team’s dashboard.  People do have a choice and they do go to the next airport if their expectations is one of an experience they are no longer prepared to tolerate.

It is unfair to single out airports; many organisations in many markets become (admittedly sometimes unintentionally) very metric-led.  Balanced scorecards thrive on them but it easily drives the wrong behaviours.  Vendors at the airport conference proclaimed that their products offer – and I quote – “first-class passenger processing”.  There was a sense that if it moves it can be processed, if it can be processed we can bar-code and measure it and if it can be measured we can create more metrics to grow our pile of data.

Take, for example, the “How was it for you?” array of good / ok / bad buttons having just gone through airport security.  It’s data in the making but on its own, apart from regulatory reporting, for what real purpose?  If 100% of people hit the red “It was bad” button, how can the airport know what to do differently without any supporting qualitative information?  Depending on how you look at it, while this piece of data adds to the big picture, it is either a costly activity with little return or a missed opportunity as the infrastructure is there anyway.

In the retail world, the amount of transactional information is certainly impressive.  One Turkish supermarket chain had made a huge success of it.  What is worrying though, is the apparent disconnect between all this data and business improvement.  When I asked the retail analytics delegates what value their work adds to the business, there were puzzled looks and absolute silence.  Slightly surprised, I then asked how they would respond if their CEO asked how the data they present helps achieve the business plan.  Eyes down, awkward shuffling and more silence.

Does this mean that in our relentless surge to generate bigger and bigger data because we can, not only are we making it more difficult to sift out the right information but that we’re losing sight of why we’re collecting any information in the first place?

A piece of research just released talked about the gap between companies’ intended customer experience programme and their lack of effective implementation.  One reason may be that the quest to understand everything about everything and to amass oceans of data has overshadowed the importance of having the skills to find the right information and how to be organised to then do something about it.

There was another corporate saying that took me a while to understand.  It was the one about “Don’t boil the ocean”.  We couldn’t anyway back then but metaphorically, maybe now we can.

That said, just because we can, still doesn’t mean we should.

 

 

 

 

Would changing the name from Customer Experience to Customer Memories make us better prepared?

We have Customer Service;  it’s what companies do to or for their customers.  We have Customer Experience;  you could say it’s what it’s really like to be on the receiving end of the service.  Done the right way though, understanding all that gives us powerful information.

Yet there is also a risk that our focus on the here-and-now can give us a distorted view of the very thing we’re trying to improve;  the likelihood of our best customers coming back, spending more and telling everyone else to do the same.

When we’re about to buy something, it’s basic human behaviour to recall what it was like last time and then to decide whether or not we go ahead or go somewhere else.  We dip into our memory bank to make the right decision, based on what happened back then and what we’ve heard and learnt since then.

But as far as organisations are concerned, I’ve seen that over the last few years the focus has been increasingly on the experience or service that is given to a customer today, more so than the impact that last experience has when it comes to the next purchase.  There are subtle, but important, differences.106

The point is, when we’re about to choose, use, buy or sign-up, it’s our memory that will determine whether we stay “loyal” or we try elsewhere.  Customer advocacy has its place, don’t get me wrong.  But while the wow factors were front of mind when I did that customer survey the day after I last had anything to do with the company, twelve months on I might have a stronger recall of the lacklustre service I’ve had since.

The term “Customer Experience” has served markets very well in raising the bar of how businesses treat their customers.  But internally, organisations have struggled and still do so today with what Customer Experience is.  Is it a new fluffy label from Marketing for what everyone knows as Customer Service?  Or a strategic way of thinking? Absent any real customer-based, cross-functional objectives “We do that already” is a common riposte, along with “It’s too expensive” and “Where’s the benefit?”.

Every organisation has a customer experience whether they know it or not and that may be one of the reasons why it doesn’t get the attention internally that it deserves.  Giving a jolt to the system and talking about influencing Customer Memories demands a different perspective; the future poking a stick at the past.  It’s like asking “What can we do that will increase the chances of you buying again?” instead of “What should we have done that would have prevented you from being really hacked off?”.  A story about horses, gates and bolting comes to mind.

Arguably, the higher the value of the purchase the less frequently we buy and therefore by definition, the time between one purchase and the next can be significant.  I’m no psychologist, but even if it’s a more regular or ad-hoc purchase I know our memories and perceptions change over time.  I might have had a hassle-free experience and at the time was a real fan, but if I’ve since heard other stories or there’s been a change in my circumstances, my attitude or needs may be completely different.  That customer feedback I gave last time is no longer relevant but unless the company asks me again just before I choose next time, they will be acting on the wrong information.

Whether we’re renewing an annual contract, buying a holiday, a car, clothes or using professional services, at that specific point in time the thing that determines what we do next is what our memory tells it was like last time;  not how likely we were to recommend the company to someone else one day after we last did the same thing.

In the name of Customer Experience, organisations understandably have an insatiable appetite to canvas opinions within days, minutes or even as it happens.  That information is used as a proxy for brand strength and to forecast the likelihood of repurchases.  But if that repurchase is weeks, months even years away, how accurate can it be?  It’s obviously easier to ask a customer how it was just after they’ve been in touch as there is a definitive trigger point for feedback.   Just because the timing of the next interaction is harder to predict though, that shouldn’t stop us seeking such valuable information.

It seems to make sense then that we should, in addition or as an alternative, track what a customer feels and thinks much closer to the point at which they make their next decision.  We would still keep the metric-obsessed folk happy with a quantitative score in answer to a question such as “Based on what you remember about last time, are you likely / not sure / unlikely to use us next time?”.

Importantly though, we would also still get the gilt-edged qualitative information about what can be reinforced at that pre-purchase point in time and not afterwards when it might be too late.  And it would still be the case that if we get the experience right, the metrics will look after themselves, not the other way around.

It’s great to see customer strategy and customer experience being discussed in the Board Room.  In the main however, there is still a focus on what customers say just after purchase or the “experience”.  By the time the customer is in a position to make a choice next time, the things that drive that new decision may be very different and are purely in the memory.

And I for one would give ten out of ten for tapping into that.

 

Whose role is it anyway? The organisational side of Customer Experience

The philosophy behind customer experience has been around since cavemen first traded a club for a spear.  It was simple then, as it is now.  If you didn’t like who you were buying from or you felt they were getting more out of it than you, you’d probably get your own back by inventing the wheel or going to see who’s in the next valley.

Maybe because we’re better at evolution than revolution, many organisations today are shoe-horning that basic concept of customer experience into an existing model.  And while there are companies who regularly get a mention for making us feel good about doing business with them, many more have reinvented that wheel only to have it spinning, making very slow – if any – progress.

There are generally three types of organisational approach to tackling customer experience;  add the responsibility to an existing team, create a new team or have a culture where everybody is accountable.   The benefits of customer experience are buried beneath a duvet of repeated platitudes so I won’t cover those here, but the unintended pitfalls of each are worth a quick look.

Add customer experience to an existing team

Done in the right way it can be highly motivating to be asked to take on more responsibility, especially if it’s to lead and manage something like the customer agenda.  A bigger challenge but a bigger profile too.  Usually, it will be complementary to the role that team already carries out – Marketing, Customer Service or Complaints for example.

But rarely will the existing responsibilities be pegged back and often the measures by which performance will be judged are an extension of what the objectives are already.  The consequence is that while the ambition is there, the reality is that the day-job still takes priority.  At best, the specific skills and way of thinking that are needed to run a customer experience programme evolve from what is there already.  At worst, the team gets a pasting in their performance review because what the CEO expected isn’t delivered.  Rather like their customers’ experiences.

Create a new customer experience team

Surely the watertight answer?  Not always.  For the individuals involved, being part of a new team is exciting in its own right.  Being part of an organisation that is putting its money where its mouth is, even better.  It’s a great opportunity and if – and that’s a big if – the top-level sponsorship is visible and solid, the opportunity to influence others to do the right thing is inspiring.

Yet teams can easily become a victim of their own success if they let it.  The creation of a bespoke go-to resource that is going to lead the customer experience charge carries an inherent danger that others think they are absolved of the responsibility.  That mind-set is exaggerated if performance measures across the organisation don’t change to be in sync either.

Without the right leadership and engagement of peers, the team quickly finds they are picking up everything and anything to do with “customer” on behalf of the business.  They get to handle complaints, they run customer service weeks, they monitor and report on compliance outcomes and they get drawn in to police programmes and projects.

Individuals who are given the customer experience roles from other parts of the business often remain task-oriented, keen to impress and be busy.  So will they have the inclination, confidence or authority to learn specific customer experience skills? To follow what is being said about them and their competitors in social media and to develop reciprocal relationships with internal and external partners based on mutual understandings?  Or will they settle for linear process maps rather customer journeys?  Report to their boss that the call-centre manager won’t carry out a quick survey at the end of calls because it adds to the average handling time metrics?

Strong governance, inclusive of every part of the business from reception desk to board table is the key.  Working to the same priorities that everyone else is, knowing what the latest brand campaign is all about, understanding each other’s challenges – it’s nothing new but its effective adoption by many ranks naively low on the corporate ‘to-do’ list.

Have the right culture

The good news is that whether they know it or not, every organisation already has a customer culture.   The bad news is that it’s not always the right one.  Even worse, some are unable to articulate which it is, good or bad.

In the same way that we shouldn’t need complaints departments, a well-led customer experience department should do itself out of a job.  It’s not a function, it’s a way of thinking and a strategic tool that makes the business more efficient;  driving out duplicated and superfluous costs and focusing resources of the things that matter most to the health of the company and repeat business from more of the most valuable customers.

Delivering on the strategic plan, whether it’s to stabilise, grow or transform a business takes much more than a poster on the wall that proclaims “We put customers at the heart of everything we do!”.

What does the right customer culture look like?  That is up to you, your brand and your leadership style.  But as they say, what’s on the inside gets reflected on the outside.

If your people have little understanding of what the business is doing and why, if they are applauded for following processes rather than doing what’s right for the customer and if they talk about their competitors more than their own brand, then maybe the time is right to step outside.

Join the others looking in, see what they see and do something about it – before they head off to the next valley.

Customer experiences highlight the danger of businesses taking relationships for granted

The sage advice “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” needs no introduction but it clearly infers that one party is more needy than the other.

It’s a sentiment that’s always been true in a commercial context since the earliest days of trading.  In today’s world though, while the business side is becoming increasingly reliant, the experience they present in search of short-term results can push their customers away rather than bringing them closer.  What’s worse, is that it’s especially magnified – not to say ironic – when the hand that’s doing the feeding has made a commitment, with the inevitable result that the business gets dropped and the customer turns away to move indifferently on.

The very mention of a “relationship” conjures up different meanings to different people yet it is a ubiquitous byword for underpinning success.  Our focus on customer experience, on what it’s really like to do business, is helping to explain why that potential misunderstanding can have serious consequences.Customer Experience vs Customer Service

Let’s be honest, it is really only the organisation that wants or even talks about the proverbial relationship.  The P&L and share price are much more dependent on their customer than the other way around.  At its core, it means that the client simply plays along until a better offer appears or they have reason to suspect a lack of value, trust or respect.

What is intended by one party as a commitment to be in it for the long-haul can be seen by the other as an opportunity to take advantage of, worrying about tomorrow, tomorrow.  Harsh?  Well, customer experience feedback is showing that even where – or because – a client does commit, they are made to feel that the business is a bit too needy, being greedy, embracing the relationship with the grace of a pick-pocketing bear-hug.

Whether necessitated by the economic environment, organisational complacency or driven by the personal short-term agendas of those in charge, there are signs emerging where such conditions serve only to increase the likelihood of a customer choosing an alternative next time, defeating the point of a business creating the relationship in the first place.

To illustrate the point let’s take two examples.

Firstly, legal services.  There are many law firms and other B2B companies who are exemplary at managing their client experiences and will do so for a long time.  There are some however, who, having worked hard to win a new contract, will try to extract as much revenue from that arrangement as quickly as possible because it might not be there in three years when it’s due to be renewed.

Patently, that short-term approach of ignoring what clients really value – things like charging hourly rates for what should be fixed-price work, showing a lack of understanding and having nasty surprises or a lack of information on invoices – is a self-fulfilling prophecy and will actually make sure the client will not renew in three years.  At best there won’t be a happy exchange of testimonials and worse, the client may pull the plug before the contract expires and explain why to all of their contacts.

Secondly, rail operators.  One would think that securing a fixed-term franchise is great news, and it should be.  A foot in the door for all those future contracts too.  But reading passenger reviews of one particular rail company in the UK reveals evidence that one person’s short-term is another’s long-term.  Investors rightly expect a return on their investment but those behind the franchise operators may have tipped the balance in extracting so much jam today that they now risk having no bread and butter tomorrow.

If their trains are filled with more people than there are seats, is it because their passenger experience is so good or because there’s a coach missing as a result of cheaper but longer maintenance schedules?  Or, that they don’t care about charging full price to stand for an hour in a draughty, noisy place?Mind the gap between Service and Experience

For some, the basic but unmet needs of reliability and cleanliness are still objectives and talking points for franchises rather than being the norm.  And, despite broadband wi-fi being available everywhere from my local café to an Airbus A380, we were told yesterday that rail companies in the UK should be able to offer wi-fi by 2019.  I know that’s more of a capital-intensive offering than getting staff to smile but still, 2019?

So, while some operators have fans rather than passengers, why is it that others are failing?  The word on the seats about this one major operator is that service has not improved noticeably since the franchise began – there are still broken doors on carriages and paid-for extras don’t materialise.  Even worried staff are saying everything’s on hold until (if) it is renewed, due in a year.  It’s easy to see how even just an ‘ok’ service then in turn breeds a shared cynicism;  it is also believed, rightly or wrongly, that a key metric in that renewal pitch is on-time arrivals – something that’s easy to achieve high scores on if you’re also in control of the timetable.

We know that with the right experiences, customers will choose to come back next time and it is that – the accumulation of many very short-term affirmations – which gives longevity to what businesses see as the elusive relationship.

So even where a contract, commitment or lack of choice exists, the company being fed would do well to act as if there is no long-term nature, no assumption about next time.

Their customers don’t make rash assumptions or see it that way;  what they do see is that on the other end of the hand that is doing the feeding they also have a pair of legs, ready to run at the first sign of a bite to a more appreciative recipient…